Day three of the murder trial for 17-year-old Dawnta Harris saw 12 state witnesses called to the stand to testify. From a cab driver to a medical examiner and homicide detectives, the jury heard more evidence presented about the burglaries but the most interesting development came from the state’s fingerprint expert, the Baltimore County Police Department latent print examiner responsible for examining prints collected from the burglarized homes, stolen property and Jeep and compared those with prints from the 4 teens arrested for Officer Amy Caprio’s death.
Police say Harris was the driver of the stolen Jeep that hit and killed Caprio on May 21, 2018. The fingerprint expert Denise Wallace testified that Harris’ prints were lifted from the Jeep driver’s side door as well as from the bottom of a LEGO racer game that was stolen from one of the homes.
Prosecutors said in their opening statement that Harris was the getaway driver but up until this point, had only developed the connection between the other three arrested and the burglaries. Wallace confirmed their prints were lifted from spots in and/or around the homes burglarized, on stolen property and on the Jeep. Also on the Jeep, Wallace identified prints of three other males not charged. The men responsible for leaving those prints were confirmed through AFIS.
Establishing that Harris knowingly played a part in the burglaries is essential for the state to prove him guilty of first degree murder because of Maryland’s felony murder statute. Harris’ defense maintains that he did not play a part in the burglaries, that he stayed in the car and only moved to the front seat to change the radio station and that’s when he was confronted by Officer Caprio.
Thursday, the jury also heard from the owner of the black Jeep who said it was stolen from his home on May 18, 2018, along with 2 TVs, silverware and a chef’s hat with his name on it that was located in the back of the Jeep on May 21, according to a Baltimore County Police technician who testified Wednesday.
A now retired homicide detective who had possession of the two phones found on Harris when he was arrested also testified. She said one of the two phones was later identified as Darrell Ward’s, one of the other teens arrested and charged in Caprio’s death.
Then, the jury head from the cab driver who picked up three teens from a Perry Hall shopping center approximately two miles from the crime scene that afternoon. He said while he drover them to Frederick Douglas High School, he saw one of the boys in the back seat fiddling with a gun magazine and then he saw he toss something out the window.
The jury later learned from a GPS expert that the three teens in the cab included Darrell Ward because he was wearing a GPS ankle bracelet at the time and Department of Juvenile Service records show him at the location of the shopping center at around the time of pick up and then he ends up at the HS 30 minutes later. The GPS expert went through Ward’s entire day May 21. It starts with him at home in the morning, then going to a gas station, making his way to the first burglary location where a package was stolen off the porch. The minute-by-minute data analyzed by the GPS expert shows him then inside and around the other two homes burglarized, before heading to the Perry Hall shopping center at around 2:30 p.m.
The medical examiner who performed Caprio's autopsy also testified Thursday. She said Caprio’s cause of death was multiple injuries to her upper body consistent with a “crush type of injury." She said Caprio’s liver was "pulpified", ribs on her side & back were completely broken, her diaphragm was torn and there was hemorrhaging in her lungs- all injuries not consistent with impact from compression CPR though she said that could further exacerbate her chest injuries.
“Officer Caprio died as a result of the injuries caused by that vehicle. There’s no question about that we aren’t debating that. That’s not the battle ground. The battle ground are all the things that Mr. Brown [co-defense council] has indicated and that is whether or not he [Harris] was involved the burglaries and whether or not there was any intention on his part to cause harm to Officer Caprio,” said attorney J. Wyndal Gordon, one of Harris’ attorneys.
His defense maintains that Harris did not knowingly participate in the burglaries nor did he intend to hit Caprio. They say he ducked because he was scared that she had her gun raised at him and he thought she was taking cover behind her patrol cruiser when he drove forward.
The last witness of the day was an FBI cell phone tower expert who says Harris and the other three teens’ phones were in the area of the burglaries at the time police say the crimes happened, based on records and tower pings. However, during cross examination, the expert said he did not test the tower coverage area or strength of the towers used in this case.
The jury has heard from 40 witnesses and Friday will be the state’s last: the lead detective on the case; the witness the defense has been waiting to hear from because he was the one who took Harris’ statement at police headquarters that day in May. Direct and cross examination is expected to take most of Friday. Jury instructions and closing arguments are expected Monday.