Teacher Cleared In Teen's Death

Teacher Cleared In Teen's Death

Prince George Journal - 9/20/96 - Timothy W. Maier - Journal staff writer

A 23-year-old Potomac Landing Elementary school teacher was acquitted of murder charges yesterday in the slaying of a teen-ager who was gunned down earlier this year in Temple Hills.

With a Bible by his side, Andre Bernard James embraced his attorney, James Papirmeister, after jurors deliberated less than 90 minutes and declared him not guilty of first- and second-degree murder in the Jan. 14 shooting of Derrick Tyrone Boyd, 18, of Temple Hills.

Both James and his father, the Rev. Eugene James of Mount Olive Baptist Church in Washington, appeared to have tears in their eyes when jurors reached the verdict. They declined to comment.

"His first reaction was to get down on his knees with his Bible in his hand and pray." Papirmeister said. "These are deeply religious people. The Bible is what they live and eat and sleep by."

The verdict appeared to stun a packed courtroom filled with about two dozen supporters of Boyd and another dozen friends and relatives of James, who prepared the night before for the possibility of a long prison term.

Several of Boyd's friends stormed out of the courtroom, cursing at jurors and the verdict.

"This is B.S." said one angry youth, who was immediately followed by several deputy sheriffs.

Boyd's tearful mother, Grace Parker, walked slowly out of the courtroom with a friend who tried to comfort her by saying, "God will take care of him."

An alternate juror who did not participate in the deliberations said she was shocked at the jury's verdict. The 12 jurors were escorted to their cars by sheriff's deputies and declined to comment.

State's Attorney Jack Johnson had trouble understanding the jury's finding.

"I'm really shocked by this," Johnson said. "I'm hurt. I thought the evidence was overwhelming. We had two eyewitnesses and the medical examiner. I thought the case was well-presented. I don't understand.

"I think the jury has to know that this is not television land. We don't find smoking guns," he said.

Prosecutor Kristen Hileman and co-counsel Ranganath Manthripragada, who were not present when the verdict was declared, were unavailable for comment.

For Papirmeister, a former homicide prosecutor, it was the second murder trial he tried as a defense attorney and the second time a jury acquitted his client of murder charges.

Papirmeister said James, who now teaches special education students at an academy in Washington, will fight to get his teaching job back in Prince George's County.

"We are going to get his teaching job back," Papirmeister said. "He has been prejudged. He was placed on administrative leave without pay. They could have suspended him. I want him back teaching young people. I want full back pay for everything he has been denied."

James, who did not testify in the case, was described by numerous character witnesses as a dedicated teacher, who put children and God above everything else.

According to police, James initially confessed to the shooting, claiming he shot Boyd in self-defense during a struggle for the gun that he said Boyd pulled on him in the 2800 block of Keith Street in Temple Hills.

However, the confession was not placed into evidence and there was no additional evidence to support that James had ever confessed to police.

Instead, Papirmeister attacked the credibility of the state's key witnesses, William Bagley, 17, a former Potomac High School student, and Ronald Burton, 18, who since the incident has enlisted in the U.S. Navy. The youths testified James shot Boyd in cold blood following a petty argument the night before the incident.

Papirmeister suggested the lead detective, Cpl. Roger Irvin, failed to find evidence to support the youth's claims, such as finding the five bullets that the teens said were fired at them after the single shot struck Boyd in the face.

Calling Irvin's investigation "unbelievable and nonexistent," Papirmeister said the 23-year veteran detective ignored fingerprint evidence, chose not to conduct tests on the victim's clothes or hands or rule out the possibility that Boyd handled the gun.

Papirmeister credited his investigator, Sharon Weidenfeld, for uncovering evidence that challenged the state's witnesses, including Burton's uncle who Weidenfeld said referred to his nephew as a "chronic liar."

Papirmeister said there were at least a dozen witnesses that could have testified about Boyd allegedly being a drug dealer who was upset that James repeatedly called the police on him.

Under a court order by Circuit Judge William B. Spellbring Jr., evidence on the victim's alleged involvement with drugs was considered irrelevant and not allowed to be presented to the jury.

Spellbring also ruled that the 24 grams of suspected cocaine found on Boyd's body could not be allowed into evidence.

The judge also delivered a blow to the prosecution when he ruled prosecutors could not introduce evidence that James deliberately lied when he told police that the revolver used in the shooting was in the Anacostia River. The gun was never recovered.