Additional Witnesses Introduced Day Before Homicide Trial

Both parties sought to include additional witnesses and evidence during an Oct. 11 motion hearing in preparation for an upcoming murder trial.

Each party claimed the other’s new witness was introduced without timely notice, and DC Superior Court Judge Maribeth Raffinan asked that proper notice be filed for both by the end of the day, with jury selection set to start tomorrow.

On Aug. 10, 2017, Robert Moses, 23 and James Mayfield, 22, approached the intersection of Montana and Saratoga Avenues, NE while allegedly armed with .40 and .45 caliber handguns. Collectively, the defendants allegedly fired over ten rounds at people standing on Saratoga Avenue. One of the bullets struck 17-year-old Jamahri Sydnor in the head as she was driving, killing her. Three other bystanders were also injured by stray bullets.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Moses’ defense attorney Steven Kiersh, raised a concern about a witness that the prosecutors had just announced their intent to call. Kiersh said he wasn’t notified in time about the witness, who is a DNA expert. He also mentioned concerns about the expert having biases.

The prosecutor said the expert would only be called if the defense attempted to undermine the credibility of their first DNA expert witness. She also noted the defense’s failure to file notice about their own witness in time, saying “if we’re going to be worried about Rule 16 notice, the defense should work on that.”

The defense’s witness, an expert in cell phone tower data, was most likely only going to act as a consultant, Kiersh clarified.

He wanted him added to the witness list, though, in case he disagreed with the prosecution’s cell site expert witness.

The prosecutor remarked that “the notice requirement goes both ways,” and Judge Raffinan ruled that they would both have to provide their formal notices relating to the new witnesses by 8:30 that evening.

Parties also discussed the prosecution’s motion to introduce witness testimonies and evidence related to guns found inside Moses’ mother’s house as well as an Aug. 9, 2017, altercation involving the defendants. 

One witness, a friend of the defendants, had been staying with Moses in his mother’s basement prior to Sydnor’s murder.

The prosecutor said she plans to question the witness on search warrants conducted in that basement, which revealed two hiding spaces, one containing two guns. The other spot reportedly contained ammunition for a .40 caliber gun, the same caliber used in Sydnor’s murder. An empty .40 caliber gun box was also found in the house.

The prosecution stressed that because this witness was “dirtying himself up” alongside the defendants, he was unlikely to be lying in his grand jury testimony. 

Mayfield’s defense attorney Veronice Holt disagreed with this characterization of the witness, saying it was in fact self-serving.

The witness is “Mr. .45,” Holt said—he owned and sold many .45 caliber guns, one of which was recovered at the scene,” Holt said. “The prosecution is trying to take that association from the witness and give it to my client.” 

Holt referenced Moses’ mother’s initial testimony, in which she described Mayfield as “not a regular visitor” at her house, unlike Moses and the witness. 

Holt emphasized that there was no evidence linking Mayfield to any of the guns in that basement. She asked Judge Raffinan to explicitly request that the jury not use the search warrant evidence against Mayfield, to which the judge agreed.

Holt also requested that eyewitness testimony from the Aug. 9 altercation be excluded.

According to court documents, an eyewitness observed the defendants and their same friend exiting a gold Honda.

In their initial testimony, the witness recalled very few details from the incident, merely that gunshots were fired, and the same trio ran back to the Honda shortly after.

Later, the witness was shown an officer’s body camera footage. The footage led the witness to amend their testimony, clarifying that after exiting the car, the trio jumped a nearby Saratoga man and started chasing him around. According to the witness, the Saratoga man fired three gunshots as a warning, and the trio ran off.

Given that this body camera footage has since been destroyed, Holt contended the testimony was “not clear or convincing evidence.” With no other eyewitnesses to the event, she insisted that a single eyewitness’ uncorroborated report should not be admitted.

Judge Raffinan disagreed, given the substantial weight of the testimony. The Aug. 9 incident indicated that heightened crew rivalry might have motivated Moses and Mayfield’s Aug. 10 shooting, instilling in them an intent to kill.

The defense also motioned for any references to the defendants as gang-members, or their Langdon Park friend group as a gang, be omitted during the trial. Kiersh expressed concern at the loaded and incendiary nature of the word “gang”; specifically, its potential to “turn the jury against my defendant.”

The prosecution agreed to refer to the defendants’ group as a “crew” but still requested permission to reference the decades-long violent “beef” between the Langdon Park and Saratoga neighborhoods. According to prosecutors, numerous anonymous residents of each neighborhood insisted that fights and shootouts between the two regularly take place.

Judge Raffinan opined that the crew-related evidence was relevant given that several Saratoga residents were standing in the defendants’ line of fire. According to Judge Raffinan, evidence of the defendants’ crew allegiance and involvement in the Aug. 9 incident were crucial for portraying Sydnor’s death as a casualty within a broader dispute, rather than an isolated event.

Judge Raffinan agreed to admit the prosecution’s references to crew-related evidence, so long as it was directly relevant to the defendants’ identities, motives, and intent during the Aug. 10 shooting. In order to minimize prejudice, Judge Raffinan prohibited the prosecution from making any generalized references to gangs or crews.

Moses, 23, was arrested on Aug. 10, 2017. Mayfield, 22, was arrested on Dec. 28, 2017. They are charged with more than a dozen counts each, including first-degree murder while armed, assault with the intent to kill and possession of a firearm during a crime of violence.

The parties are scheduled to reconvene on Oct. 12 for jury selection.

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