Attorneys Prepare for Murder Trial Involving Alleged Police Leak

Attorneys are preparing for a September murder trial involving alleged gang violence and police leaks which is expected to feature testimony from more than 90 witnesses.

Derek Turner and Ronnika Jennings face charges including first-degree murder while armed, obstruction of justice and conspiracy in connection with the fatal shooting of 28-year-old Andrew McPhatter on March 5, 2017, on the 3500 block of Wheeler Road, SE. Jennings, 43, is accused of funneling criminal intelligence to Turner, 30, during her time as a clerk for the Metropolitan Police Department. Another co-defendant, Duan Hill, 33, is currently charged with conspiracy and obstruction of justice. The three are scheduled to go on trial in September.

During a March 13 hearing, Hill’s defense lawyer Bruce Cooper asked DC Superior Court Judge Marisa Demeo to modify his client’s release conditions. Currently, Hill is required to call his Pretrial Services Agency officer once a week during his release, but Cooper wanted the requirement reduced to once a month. The prosecution opposed the request, calling it unnecessary. Hill is on pretrial release while the others remain in custody.

One of the prosecutors on Hill’s case said Hill has been re-arrested for an alleged firearm possession offense since he was released from DC Jail in August 2018, but he was not prosecuted. Judge Demeo said Hill only missed one call with his PSA officer in one week and has been otherwise compliant. Still, the prosecutor argued that a weekly call was not an infringement on Hill’s personal liberty. 

“Why change something that appears to be working?” the prosecutor asked. “We’re five months from trial. I don’t see the benefit to the court of changing Mr. Hill’s conditions.”

“You are not a judge, you’re a prosecutor, so you’re not seeing it through the judge’s perception of what the law is and how to best decide a set of release conditions that would assure the safety of the community,” Judge Demeo said. “Ultimately it’s your burden to argue or assure the safety of the conditions … I have an ongoing obligation to not put on conditions that are not necessary to protect the community. How is calling once a month versus four times a month better to [sic] the community?”

Judge Demeo said weekly phone calls were different from a GPS tracker, in part because they do not bear a direct, verifiable reflection on the defendant’s behavior. The prosecutor insisted they did, and that the requirement was part of an ensemble of release conditions that was working to keep the community safe.

Judge Demeo granted Cooper’s request to reduce Hill’s reporting requirements to once a month. The prosecution said they will look into any of Hill’s arrest records from his time on pretrial release and file a motion for reconsideration.

Jury selection for this case is scheduled to take place on Sept. 6. Judge Demeo noted that there were many pending motions in the case across the three co-defendants and scheduled hearings for July 5 and July 8 to discuss the motions that required an evidentiary hearing. On the motions that don’t, Judge Demeo said she would issue a written decision from her chambers.

Jennings’ lawyer recently left the case after being tapped to become a judge. Judge Demeo appointed Russel Hairston as Jennings’ new counsel and emphasized the need for him to be caught up by the time the trial commences.

Turner, Jennings and Hill are scheduled to return to court for a status hearing on June 29. 

Turner and Jennings were charged with conspiracy and obstruction of justice before they were charged with murder. Marshay Hazelwood was charged with conspiracy and obstruction of justice, but her case has been dismissed. Turner is also charged with first-degree murder while armed in a separate case for the fatal shooting of 23-year-old Devin Hall on Jan. 7, 2017, on the 3500 block of 6th Street, SE.