TOWSON, Md. — Dawnta Harris, the teen charged with striking and killing Baltimore County Police Officer Amy Caprio as she confronted him driving a stolen Jeep in a Perry Hall cul-de-sac, was found guilty of burglary and first-degree felony murder in a Baltimore County courtroom Wednesday. He faces a potential sentence of life in prison.
"I'm just glad that we are able to begin getting justice for Amy," said Assistant State's Attorney Zarena Sita.
The jury deliberated for more than six hours over two days when reaching their verdict. Harris was also found guilty of auto theft in the stealing of the Jeep. He was found not guilty of first-degree burglary and fourth-degree burglary in relation to additional burglaries prior to the confrontation with Caprio.
After the verdict was read, Harris' mother burst out of the court room in tears, and her despairing cries could be heard from down the hall. In fact, many in the court room erupted in tears as the gravity of the jury's decision set in.
"We will live with this traumatic event in our lives... we wake up in the morning, we live it every day," said Amy's father Garry Sorrells.
Amy's parents, family, friends and colleagues joined the prosecutors and Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger in addressing the media after hearing the verdict.
"I would just like to thank everyone for their support, their prayers, their love and concern," said Amy's mom Debbie Sorrells. "We would have been able to get through any of this without people's love and compassion."
Amy's father also shared gratitude for the jurors and their diligence.
"Jury duty shouldn't be something you get out of. You should be proud to sit for it," said Garry Sorrells.
Because the first-degree felony murder conviction hinged on Harris' involvement in one of the burglaries that preceded Caprio's death, prosecutors presented fingerprints and cell phone evidence, alleging that although Harris may not have been in any of the houses committing the burglaries, he was a co-conspirator, acting as a look out and get-away driver for the group.
“This whole thing has been a tragedy," said Warren Brown, one of Harris' defense attorneys. "You’ve got an officer who gave her life in the line of duty. You’ve got a kid who’s just lost and finds himself in this type of predicament. So as I indicated at the beginning of this trial, they’re be no winner’s here, just losers. And it’s a tragedy."
"We fought and because of us fighting, it wasn't a clean slate. He was found not guilty on some of the remaining charges," said defense attorney J. Wyndal Gordon. "Hats off to everyone involved, including the judge. It was fair from the beginning of this case to the end."
The trial opened with events of the day recounted and disputed. Then neighbors and police described what and who they saw leading up to and through the deadly confrontation. Experts and investigators followed next, dissecting evidence showing Harris' presence in events of the day. Particular attention seemed to be paid to video from Harris' interrogation with police, in which his story seemed to frequently change and he unsuccessfully attempted to hide the key to the stolen Jeep.
Harris' defense team has 10 days to file an appeal. Brown said an appeal would be filed. Harris will stay behind bars under no bail status.
Harris’ defense called it a fair trial but said they will file an appeal for a new trial. “He’s not in good shape,” defense attorney Warren Brown says of Harris after the verdict reading @WMAR2News pic.twitter.com/Rx7FhQbjeo— Abby Isaacs WMAR (@AbbyIsaacsNews) May 1, 2019
“What the future holds, only God knows that," Brown said. "That morning of May 21st, nearly a year ago, when both of these individuals, Dawnta Harris and Officer Amy Caprio, got up, I supposed that they both felt like at the end of their day, at the end of their shift, they would both go home and retire like days before. But for their coming together, Officer Caprio would still be alive and this young man would not be facing the rest of his days in prison."
"My heartfelt condolences and prayers remain with Officer Amy Caprio’s family. The past couple of weeks have undoubtedly been difficult for Amy’s family, friends, and co-workers at the Baltimore County Police Department," said Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski in a statement. "I thank the jurors who listened to the testimony, examined the evidence, and rendered their verdict. While this does not bring back Officer Caprio, justice has been delivered."
Harris' sentencing is scheduled for the end of July. Shellenberger said they will seek a life sentence.
The three other teens have been charged in the case under the same felony murder statute. Their trials are scheduled for the fall.