Man on Trial in Killing of Police Officer was Threatened, Lawyer Says

… Dispute over Canton parking space led to October killing, authorities allege …

By Yeganeh June Torbati, The Baltimore Sun

7:25 PM EDT, April 7, 2011

Sian James felt threatened by Detective Brian Stevenson the night last October that James struck Stevenson in the head with a rock, killing the off-duty police officer in a Canton parking lot, a defense attorney argued Thursday before a Baltimore Circuit Court jury.

But a prosecutor argued that the killing, which resulted from a dispute over a parking spot, was senseless and that the 26-year-old James is guilty of nothing less than murder.

“That man went into Streeper Street, picked up a concrete rock and smashed it against somebody’s head,” said prosecutor Charles Blomquist. “This is a case of senselessness.”

The jury heard testimony from several persons who were present the night Stevenson, an 18-year veteran of the police force and father of two, was killed.

Their accounts of the night’s events differed, especially on the question of whether Stevenson and his friend, Kitrick Stewart, physically threatened James, his roommate Robert Gibson, Gibson’s girlfriend, Nicole Sauer, and Sauer’s friend, Molly Gilbert.

In opening statements Thursday, Blomquist said James “sucker-punched” Stevenson in the head with a fist-size piece of concrete, killing him on what was to be a celebratory night marking Stevenson’s 38th birthday.

John Denholm, James’ attorney, told jurors that Stevenson was belligerent and had been drinking the night he was killed, and that James had felt physically threatened by him. Denholm also implied that police were biased in their investigation of the incident.

“There is no murder if there is self-defense,” he said. “There is no crime if there is self-defense.”

Sauer testified that on the night of Oct. 16, a group of about seven people gathered at a home in the 2800 block of Dillon Court in Canton to get ready for a night out. About 10 p.m., before the group left the home, Sauer said, she walked to a parking lot nearby in the 2800 block of Hudson St. to save a spot for Gilbert.

Stevenson, driving a black Escalade, pulled up and parked in the spot, despite Sauer’s objections that she was saving it for a friend, Sauer said. Stewart was in the passenger seat. Gibson and James arrived at the parking lot shortly after.

Upon his arrival, Gibson said, Stevenson began threatening him and getting close to his face, yelling profanities and threatening to “shoot you in your … face.”

“They were serious,” said Gibson, 29, who testified in court in a blue dress shirt and jeans. “He was going to do some damage.”

But Stewart denied in his testimony that Stevenson threatened to shoot anyone. Gilbert, 26, also testified that she did not hear anyone say anything about shooting.

During testimony Thursday in which he struggled to maintain his composure, Stewart acknowledged that the four men exchanged words and profanities. At no point during the altercation, Stewart said, did Stevenson identify himself as a police officer.

Gibson added that Stevenson and his friend smelled strongly of liquor and that Stevenson was holding a drinking glass. Stewart said the pair each had had between two and three vodka-and-cranberry mixed drinks over the course of two hours, at his home and at the Bowman Restaurant on Harford Road.

Dr. Carol Allan, a forensic pathologist in the office of Maryland’s chief medical examiner who performed Stevenson’s autopsy, determined that he had a blood-alcohol content of .07 percent. In Maryland, the legal limit for blood-alcohol content is .08 percent.

Sauer testified that she saw James walk out of the parking lot and return, and that “within a second” Stevenson fell to the ground. Allan testified that the force of the blow to Stevenson’s head caused skull fractures and bleeding on the surface of his brain, causing Stevenson’s lungs and heart to stop functioning.

After Stevenson was struck, both Sauer and Gibson said, Stevenson’s friend yelled to him, “Give me the gun!” and began looking in the Escalade.

“I felt like 200 percent that he had a gun,” Gibson said.

But Stewart denied that he ever asked for a gun, and said he never threatened anyone. On the contrary, he said he felt threatened and was looking in the Escalade for anything he could find to protect himself.

The friends then went to the Mosaic club downtown, where police found them several hours later.

Stevenson’s friends and family and several police officers packed the courtroom on Thursday to watch the proceedings. The atmosphere was charged and emotional, and one man started sobbing upon hearing a tape of Stewart’s 911 call to police. Several other people who lived near the parking lot and had heard the altercation also called 911, and Blomquist played their calls for the jury.

James entered the courtroom Thursday with his hands and feet shackled, wearing a white thermal sweater and khaki pants. Denholm, his attorney, said he expected the trial to wrap up by Friday or Monday.

Copyright © 2011, The Baltimore Sun

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