Parties Deliver Closing Arguments in Co-Defendant Homicide Trial

During a Nov. 29 jury trial, two parties delivered closing arguments and the judge reversed her previous ruling on a motion in a 2017 murder case.

On Aug. 10, 2017, at around 3:30 p.m., Robert Moses, 23 and James Mayfield, 22 approached the intersection of Montana and Saratoga Avenues, NE while armed with .40 and .45 caliber handguns. Collectively, the defendants fired over ten rounds at people standing on Saratoga Avenue. One of these bullets struck 17-year-old Jamahri Sydnor in the head as she was driving, killing her. Three other bystanders were struck by the bullets.  

Moses was arrested on Oct. 16, 2017.  He is charged with 13 counts, including first-degree murder while armed, assault with the intent to kill while armed, and aggravated assault while armed on Oct. 26, 2017. 

Mayfield was arrested on Dec. 27, 2017. He is charged with 25 counts, including first-degree murder, assault with the intent to kill while armed, possession of a firearm during a crime of violence, threat to kidnap or injure a person, robbery while armed, assault with a dangerous weapon, possession of an unregistered firearm, carrying a pistol without a license, and attempt to commit robbery while armed. 

Phillip McDaniel, 26, an accomplice who was arrested and charged in 2017 for his involvement in Sydnor’s murder, signed a plea deal to lessen his sentence to second-degree murder. This deal included his agreement to testify against Moses and Mayfield. 

On Tuesday, the parties revisited a motion for judgment of acquittal on two counts of obstruction of justice. 

Moses’ defense attorney Steven Kiersh introduced the motion the previous day to  strike the two counts from Moses’ record, and DC Superior Court Judge Maribeth Raffinan granted Kirsch’s request. 

However, prosecutors introduced a motion for Judge Raffinan to reconsider her ruling, highlighting a series of statutes and verdicts from similar cases indicating that Moses could be found guilty of obstructing justice.

The counts relate to a phone call between Moses and his close childhood friend when Moses was in prison. The friend had been with Moses at Benning basketball courts during the afternoon of Oct. 26, 2017, where they were both arrested. 

Prosecutors reaffirmed their stance that Moses tried to persuade his friend to mislead lawyers on his behalf. They read aloud a phone transcript of Moses telling his friend, “I need you, that’s why I’m calling. Let the lawyer know I was with you playing a game at the courts at 2:00, at 4:00,” to which his friend agreed, “I’m already hip.” 

According to prosecutors, Moses’ call was clearly instructive and thus an attempt to impede proceedings, dissuading his friend from truthfully testifying to his whereabouts.

Kiersh responded by referencing Moses’ friend’s interview with his lawyer, in which he said he assumed Moses was referring to the day he was arrested, rather than the day of the incident. 

“I don’t think he was asking for an alibi,” the friend stated. 

According to Kiersh, there was no indication that Moses knew his friend would testify in front of a Grand Jury.

Judge Raffinan said that after reviewing the prosecution’s motion, she found a specific precedential case so relevant that it shifted her perspective. Based on relevant statutes, she claimed it didn’t matter whether Moses knew his friend would be a witness or not, nor even if the friend  thought Moses was asking for an alibi regardless. 

Judge Raffinan stated that Moses’ mere attempt to coax a lie from his friend was sufficient grounds for including the charge. “A reasonable jury could find that Moses endeavored to lie and obstruct justice,” reversing her previous stance on the two counts.

With the jury present, Judge Raffinan instructed jurors on how to appraise the facts and evidence presented throughout the case, as well as how to rule on the individual charges levied against each co-defendant.

Judge Raffinan then relayed each co-defendant’s case theory. 

Moses contended that McDaniel’s claims were false, and that he was not one of the two men responsible for the Aug. 10 shootings. 

In Mayfield’s theory, he claimed he never conspired to aid in the Aug. 1o shootings, and that the shooters were most like McDaniel and another member of their friend group.

The prosecution began their closing argument by detailing Sydnor’s death from the perspective of her nephew, who was riding in the car with her when she was shot. 

The prosecutor urged jurors to imagine themselves as the nephew, looking out the car window to see a man pointing a gun at him, then witnessing “Auntie J” slumped over the steering wheel with blood pouring from her eyes. “You now know beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Mayfield pulled the trigger that killed Auntie J,” the prosecutor said.  

The prosecutor then summarized a series of firsthand accounts from witnesses who saw male, African American shooters at Montana and Saratoga on Aug. 10. Most eyewitnesses described two different shooters; one taller, lankier, and darker-skinned than the other, with the taller shooter wearing a black, patterned jacket and something over his head. Some described a bucket hat, others a hoodie; however, prosecutors maintained that this was not a glaring inconsistency given how colorful the hood was, and the fact that many witnesses were more focused on ducking out of the way to avoid getting shot.

One key witness was sitting faced backwards in a firetruck, affording him an elevated and clear view of the events unfolding. He recalled seeing “shells jumping out of the gun,” then watching two shooters run toward Channing Street.

The witness described one shooter as “skinny as shit,” matching descriptions and pictures of Mayfield’s physique at the time, as well as the child’s-sized shirt he wore. 

The witness also recalled being certain that the other shooter had shoulder-length dreadlocks, which neither Moses nor Mayfield had at the time. However, prosecutors noted that the black strings of the Master Piece hoodie linked to Mayfield somewhat resemble dreadlocks from afar.

The prosecutor then detailed a series of events based on McDaniel’s account of Aug. 10. With Moses and Mayfield in the car, McDaniel dropped off two friends while the three discussed plans to retaliate

Shortly after, cell site technology tracked Moses’ and McDaniels’ phones at Moses’ and Mayfield’s houses, respectively, where each allegedly picked up the .40 and .45 caliber guns. The cell site tracker also showed Moses at the crime scene at 3:30 p.m. two minutes later with surveillance footage capturing the gold Honda speeding down a nearby street.

A .40 caliber casing was also recovered below the passenger seat of the car where McDaniel said Moses usually sat. Moses’ fingerprints were on the Honda’s front door. 

Prosecutors assured the jury that McDaniel’s testimonies against Moses and Mayfield could be trusted, as his plea agreement stipulates harsh penalties for perjury should he lie. 

Additionally, McDaniel’s statements were corroborated by ten different evidentiary accounts, including five eyewitnesses, cell site evidence, surveillance footage, firearm evidence, fingerprints, and DNA.

Mayfield’s fingerprints were recovered on the backseat door as well as the trunk, where a hooded, black-and-purple Master Piece jacket was later found. 

Prosecutors had long linked the jacket to Mayfield, as its patterns and colors matched several eyewitness’ descriptions of the shooter’s clothing. A DNA expert found that Mayfield likely wore the jacket at some point.

Next, the prosecution emphasized the conspiratorial nature of Moses’ and Mayfield’s acts. The fact that they dropped off two of their friends who, according to McDaniel, “wanted no part” in the shooting shows that the three men had already discussed retaliation. Then, they armed themselves and drove around searching for Saratoga residents which, according to McDaniel, further illustrates their premeditated intent to kill.

According to the prosecutor, Mayfield and Moses had co-conspirator liability, whereby “it doesn’t matter if Mayfield’s .45 caliber gun pierced Jamahri’s brain, because Moses was in on it too.” Ballistic analyses supported the presence of two different shooters as separate clusters of .40 and .45 caliber casings were recovered on the scene.

Finally, the prosecutor argued that by taking aim at a crowd of people on the other side of the sidewalk, the defendants created a zone of danger, and “it was a foreseeable consequence that someone within that zone would be harmed.” According to the prosecutor, it didn’t matter if neither Moses nor Mayfield actually intended to kill Sydnor herself; they both had the intent to kill, which transferred to Sydnor.

Kiersh began his closing argument by referencing the intentional destruction of the black and silver .40 caliber gun linked to Moses. 

The gun was originally held in Prince George’s County’s custody as evidence for an illegal gun purchase investigation, but was connected to Sydnor through a federal ballistics database. Months after the database matched the gun’s casings to the bullet that killed Sydnor, prosecutors in Sydnor’s case asked the county court to forfeit the gun as evidence. This led to the gun being destroyed in an ATF vault in August 2019 without MPD officers’ knowledge.

According to Kiersh, the gun’s destruction prevented the conduction of DNA testing, fingerprinting, and test firing, all of which would have been integral to determining whether Moses actually fired that gun on Aug. 10. As it stands, there is no DNA evidence linking Moses to the gun that fired the casings found on Montana and Saratoga Avenues that day.

Kiersh also levied a series of criticisms against McDaniel’s integrity and character, with an apparent intent to discredit McDaniel’s testimonies against Moses. “He has no remorse for what he did. All he wants to do is scheme and lie and get himself out of jail,” Kirsch said, noting that following Sydnor’s murder, “disgraceful” McDaniel drove around DC selling drugs and guns. 

“Phillip McDaniel does whatever he needs to do, however he needs to to benefit the interests of Phillip McDaniel. He so desperately wants freedom [and] he hopes to get out in two years. He has a real incentive to lie,” Kiersh said.

Kiersh also referenced McDaniel’s statement about the evening of Aug. 10.  McDaniel said he picked up two Langdon Park friends in his Honda. However, McDaniel named two different locations for where this pick-up occurred in his Grand Jury and trial testimonies, indicating he might have lied. 

Additionally, Kiersh referenced the firetruck rider’s testimony, who repeatedly affirmed that the shorter shooter “definitely” had dreadlocks, unlike Moses at the time. Kiersh noted that one of the friends McDaniel was driving with later that day had dreadlocks and was also relatively light-skinned. 

Kiersh clarified that he wasn’t implying that the friend was the shooter: “That isn’t my job.” Still, he encouraged jurors to doubt Moses’ guilt based on these inconsistencies.

Kiersh called the validity of the prosecution’s cell site evidence into question, saying the technology “doesn’t track people, only their cell phones.” 

He added that the phone which the prosecution’s cell site expert conducted his analyses on did not contain any of Moses’ DNA nor fingerprints and was merely linked to Moses by Instagram records taken from Aug. 10.

Finally, Kiersh referenced a recent testimony by a man who lived on Channing Street, NE. The witness had seen two men walking quickly toward a gold Honda after gunshots sounded. He described the man who entered the driver’s side of the vehicle as “taller and lankier,” while the “shorter and stalkier one” entered the passenger’s side. 

According to Kiersh, the notion that one presumed shooter entered the car and drove off completely undermined McDaniel’s entire narrative, in which he merely sat in his car, minding his own business while Mayfield and Moses did the shooting. “Unlike McDaniel, [the witness] had no incentive to lie,” Kiersh said.

Closing  arguments are set to continue on Nov. 30 after which  jurors are slated to begin deliberations.

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