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Jury deliberates fate of teen accused of killing Baltimore County Police Officer

Posted at 2:52 PM, Apr 30, 2019

TOWSON, Md. — The fate of Dawnta Harris, the 17-year-old charged with killing Baltimore County Police Officer Amy Caprio in May of 2018, now rests in the hands of a Baltimore County jury.

The judge dismissed the jury at 6 p.m. after they were in deliberations for over 4 hours and asked 9 questions, the last saying, "Not even close. Can we come back fresh tomorrow?" They also asked, "What if we cannot come to a unanimous decision?" and several questions in relation to the theft charge for the stolen Jeep.

Deliberations started at 1:30 p.m. after closing arguments from both sides. Harris is accused of participating in a string of burglaries in the Perry Hall area before ultimately striking and killing Caprio with a stolen Jeep as Harris tried to flee the area.

READ MORE: Events leading to Baltimore County Police Officer's death disputed in opening arguments of murder trial

In their final summation, prosecutors focused on the inconsistencies of Harris’ story as he kept changing what he told to investigators to try to seem more removed from the day’s alleged crimes than he actually was. Of particular note was footage from his police interrogation the night Caprio died. In the video, Harris continues to revise his statements about how he ended up in Perry Hall, behind the wheel of the Jeep that eventually struck Caprio. At one point when the investigator leaves the room, he can be seen trying to hide the Jeep key in a chair. The key eventually falls out and is discovered by police.

READ MORE: Interrogation video released of teen accused of killing Baltimore County Officer Amy Caprio

Because Harris is charged with felony murder, prosecutors needed to tie his actions in with the burglaries allegedly committed by the three other teens he had ridden in the Jeep with earlier that day. Those three teens have been charged in the felony murder of Caprio as well and will stand trial in the fall. The state’s felony murder statute means that if a death results from the commission of a felony crime, anyone who participated in that crime can be charged in the murder. It also means prosecutors have to prove Harris participated in or was linked to the burglaries in order to convict him of the felony murder.

READ MORE: Prosecution rests case against Harris in Officer Caprio murder trial

“That’s where the battle ground is,” said Warren Brown, one of Harris’ defense attorneys, outside of the court room. “If they’re not convince beyond a reasonable doubt that he was an accomplice on those two burglaries, count 1 and count 2, then the jury instruction says don’t even consider felony murder."

Harris’ attorneys have repeatedly said that while Caprio’s death was a tragedy, it was a tragic accident, not a willful murder. They also argue that Harris did not know the others were burglarizing houses. The teen from the city was picked up by the group and then stuck riding with them rather than being marooned out in Baltimore County, they argue.

READ MORE: Fingerprint expert, medical examiner testify at trial for teen charged in Ofr. Amy Caprio's death

Prosecutors countered that argument, saying Harris must have known what was going on, citing the video-recorded testimony in which he admits riding in the Jeep and seeing the other teens return to the vehicle from a home none of them lived at with a box and a bag. During trial they also questioned lab technicians and investigators who found Harris’ prints on the Jeep and some stolen goods. His prints were not found in a house, and no witnesses say they saw Harris inside a burglarized home. Prosecutors say he acted as an accomplice, driving the Jeep. Cellphone records and his day-long presence with the group establish a conspiratorial link for him in the string of break ins.

READ MORE: Perry Hall residents, Police recount burglaries prior to Officer Caprio’s death

During their closing arguments, defense attorneys Brown and J. Wyndal Gordon pushed on the idea of reasonable doubt over innocence. They say there was not enough evidence to prove Harris was involved in the burglaries, and that his knowledge of the crimes and presence in the Jeep does not equate to guilt. They admit Harris was behind the wheel when the Jeep struck Caprio, but say he was scared when the officer’s gun was pointed at him during the stop, ducking behind the wheel and accelerating forward, unknowingly striking and killing her.

“We think that, we pray that the jury is receptive to our heartfelt position that the state has not proven their case beyond a reasonable doubt as to accomplice liability,” Brown said.

Brown, recognizing how emotional this case is, asked that the jury divorce their emotions and just focus on the evidence presented.

“Officer Caprio, honoring her oath to serve and protect, lost her life. Her family is there [in court]. Her friends and colleagues are there. And you know, regardless of the verdict, you can’t bring her back and that’s why I said at the beginning of the trial that regardless of the verdict, there’s not winners... only losers," said Brown. "He’s facing spending the rest of his life in a cage because he happened to be with these other individuals so this is just a horrible situation... He does feel the pain of having taken someone's life and that’s going to be with him forever."

WMAR-2 News Abby Isaacs was in court all day and for the majority of this trial. She believes that between that evidence presented and the question the jury has asked so far, that this will be a lengthy deliberation. One of two alternate jurors who were dismissed today said it will be a difficult decision for the jury, calling it a tough case and saying both sides presented good cases. If jurors wish to review evidence, the video interrogation alone is more than 2.5 hours long. Deliberations will start again at 9 a.m. Wednesday.