All the circumstantial evidence against the man accused of killing Baltimore Safe Streets executive Dante Barksdale – his arrest weeks later with the handgun used in the fatal shooting, cellphone data placing him near the crime scene, a video that would show him – are enough for a jury to convict him of murder, a prosecutor told jurors on Tuesday.
But three other people were arrested along with Garrick Powell after a traffic stop revealed the handgun used to kill Barksdale, Powell’s lawyer refuted in his opening statement. Additionally, the defense attorney said, cellphone location data was cut an hour before the shooting and the video used by police to identify Powell was grainy at best.
Those gaps in evidence amount to reasonable doubts that should prevent a jury from convicting Powell, his attorney said.
So began the trial of Powell, 29, who is charged with first-degree murder and firearms offenses stemming from Barksdale’s January 17, 2021 shooting death at the city’s Douglass Homes public housing . It was a homicide that shocked Baltimore because Barksdale was known as one of the violence prevention group’s top peacekeepers, a man who spent the last decade of his life trying to convince young men of the city to lower their arms.
Several friends, family and former colleagues from Barksdale occupied benches in one of the largest courtrooms at Baltimore City Circuit Court as Judge Jennifer Schiffer was sworn in before a jury, selected Monday, and allowed the lawyers to preview their interpretations of the evidence that will be presented. the next days.
On Tuesday afternoon, a Baltimore police officer, two city crime scene technicians and a paramedic took the witness stand to tell the jury what they saw on a bitterly cold January morning in the heart of Douglas Homes. A chaotic scene of onlookers swearing at the police – “Get out of your [expletive] cars,” one onlooker shouted – around the Barksdale corpse played on footage captured by the camera carried by the officer.
Two Anne Arundel County police officers testified about the subsequent traffic stop that produced a Polymer80 9mm semi-automatic handgun loaded with one round in the chamber and 30 more in an extended magazine. That weapon produced the nine casings and the single projectile recovered from the pool of blood on the sidewalk where Barksdale’s body came to rest, police and prosecutors said.
FBI Special Agent Michael Fowler, who specializes in historical analysis of cellphone recordings, explained to jurors the digital traces left by cellphones when ringing on nearby cellphone towers and confessed their shortcomings during a pointed cross-examination.
Meanwhile, Baltimore Detective Joseph Brown Jr., the lead homicide investigator in the case, began testifying Tuesday afternoon and is expected to take the stand Wednesday morning.
Detective Shane Frasier and Sgt. Brendan McGrath of the Anne Arundel County Police Department said they were conducting surveillance on February 3, 2021, outside a convenience store and liquor store in the 700 block of Church Street in Anne Arundel’s part of Brooklyn. They said they saw a silver Mercedes SUV parked in the mall and saw two people approaching from the passenger side. A woman spoke with a passenger before the SUV left.
Anne Arundel’s officers began following and stopped the Mercedes for speeding. Frasier said he saw people moving around inside the tinted car before it pulled over. Eventually they arrested everyone inside for firearms and drugs. They found a handgun in the rear seat armrest and, after having the car towed to the station, the Polymer80 gun jammed under the front passenger seat. That’s where Powell was sitting.
The jurors have not heard of the handgun found in the armrest because it is not relevant to the Powell murder case. All charges in Anne Arundel County stemming from a traffic stop were dismissed.
“The only way to get to where that gun was was if you were in the front seat,” Frasier said of the handgun found under the seat where Powell was sitting.
Defense attorney John Cox challenged the officers over this statement.
He pointed out that Frasier didn’t even know how many people were in the car until he approached it and got the two officers to agree that objects in the car could have moved while it was being towed from the scene at Brooklyn Park North District Station. During Cox’s questions, McGrath admitted that someone could have gotten their foot caught under the seat, through wires and an air conditioning box.
Officers for Anne Arundel testified that the woman who exchanged something with the Mercedes passenger outside the liquor store had a note with a phone number. Frasier said he obtained a warrant for the two phones confiscated from Powell during the traffic stop. One of the phones rang when they called the note’s number.
Powell was released from Anne Arundel firearms and drug charges pending trial. At the time of his arrest for murder in Baltimore in May, he was wanted for house surveillance on the run.
The FBI’s Fowler mapped the location history of Powell’s cellphone at the time of the shooting.
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Powell’s phone was recorded within the radius of a tower near Pimlico Racecourse, twice, about three hours before the shooting. Fowler estimated the phone was 750 yards from the cell tower closest to the scene of the shooting, about an hour before the murder – technology does not allow investigators to specify an exact location, and he testified that he could not say for sure whether Powell’s phone was on Douglas Court or driving on Route 40, known as Orleans Street.
The phone did not signal for the next hour; it had either been turned off, switched to airplane mode, or the battery was dead. The phone appeared in northeast Baltimore about 40 minutes later.
In his opening statement, Assistant State’s Attorney Jeffrey Maylor said video showed Barksdale at a liquor store near the 200 block of Douglas Court, where he was killed, minutes before the shooting.
“When [Barksdale] walked into these courts, he was shot at 11 a.m. on a Sunday morning,” Maylor told the jury, adding that the video, which did not capture the shooting, also showed another man. “The individual walking around in a white jacket – you’ll see his gait, you’ll see his figure, and I’ll tell you it’s Mr. Powell.”
Cox focused on what investigators didn’t: While they swabbed the weapon for DNA, they “did nothing with it,” he said. “If the DNA didn’t come back for my client, then there is no case. So why do anything about it?
He told the jury not to give too much importance to the weapon found under his client’s seat in the Mercedes, two weeks after the homicide.
“Guns transfer to Baltimore City like a hot potato,” Cox said.