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Anatomy of a Murder Trial

In Robert Long's death, "all the pieces fit together." A few are still missing.

Photographs By Michelle Gienow
Robert Long's daughter Hannah holds his picture

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 2/24/2010

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Jan. 19, 9:45 a.m. In his closing arguments, Gibson tells the jury that this case is about the best they'll see in a Baltimore court. "All the pieces fit together," Gibson says--two witnesses, one of whom knows him well, identified the shooter. The witness described the drugs in the victim's hands; the medical examiner found the same drugs in his blood. "This is not CSI," Gibson says--there are no fingerprints--but "that's the norm." There was no DNA, "but we looked." No video-- "but we looked."

Gering tells the jury that her client was simply not there. "Koethe told you," she says, and the defendant's sister testified under oath that she wouldn't lie to save him. She suggests that Morales was the killer, and ridicules the notion that her client--even if he was a drug dealer--would store heroin in an abandoned house.

Bringing his argument full circle, speaking louder now, Gibson says Smith would think his stash is secure, unguarded, because he is a killer. "Why would he stash it in an abandoned house? Because he's killing people who mess with his stash! Word is out on the street!"

(George Smith is audibly scoffing. A bailiff cautions him: Keep it up and "you cannot be in this courtroom.")

Doory excuses the alternates, and the jurors file into a side room. It is 11:05 as deliberations begin. Long's mother is convinced. "I would have died thinking José killed my son," Grace Bouvier says. "I don't think so now."

Outside, one of the alternate jurors is awaiting her ride on Calvert Street. "I found Mark Bartlett very credible," she says, but adds, "I think the defense sealed the case. Barbecue sauce?"

"Yeah, that wasn't good," says Gering of Peanut's testimony, minutes later in the hall outside the courtroom.

She has just learned that juror No. 9 (a white woman with curly hair) is trying to get juror No. 11 (an older black man with a visible lump on his head) thrown off the jury, contending that he is developmentally delayed and can't deliberate.

"Oh, he's slow," Cheyenne Ward says. "I heard him talk."

"I don't care," Gering says, "she was the one playing with her hair during the closing arguments."

No. 9's attempt fails and two hours later the jury returns. Members of both families hold their heads in their hands. No one is crying yet.

Coincidentally, José Morales lawyer, Stanley Needleman shows up while the jury's decision is read.

"Out of respect for the jury," Doory says, "there will be no display of emotion whatsoever."

The forewoman reads the verdict: guilty of first-degree murder and handgun use in a violent crime.

Long's mother is crying. Smith's people are shaking their heads.

Demetrius is standing. He shows no emotion.

"What you did was important to everyone involved. You should be very proud of yourselves," Doory tells the jurors before dismissing them. Doory asks that the attempted murder case--the other shooting--be sent to administrative court.

The things Gering says she wasn't told--that José Morales had threatened to kill Robert Long; that a man took Long's phone after he was shot (Gibson says that information was given to Gering), other details deemed insignificant dead ends by detectives and the prosecutor-- may now become part of an appeal.

At the Feb. 22 sentencing, Gering will ask Gibson to prove he informed her about the man with Long's cell phone. "In this very brief search, I was not able to locate the hand-written note," Gibson will tell Judge Doory, who will then postpone the sentencing and Gering's motion for a new trial until March 22.

This will cost Long's mother, Grace Bouvier, another $200 or $300 in plane tickets. It will cost Long's family another month of suffering as they await the end of this ordeal.

Smith's family says it's hiring a new lawyer. Ward hints that she has a new theory about who killed Robert Long, and why.

Whether or not the case ever gets before a jury again remains to be seen.

Officially, Robert Long's fate was a simple matter: He stole a guy's package and paid the usual price. How or why Long, a street-savvy drug addict facing death threats from someone else, came into possession of that heroin is unknown. Away from the courtroom, Gibson and Hohman say they also don't know how Smith learned of Long's alleged theft. It's not really relevant to the case. Courtroom logic makes no provision for that part of the story, so it will remain, like everything not placed in the official transcript, off the record. Versions of it will fade into legend, and soon be forgotten.

"I'm going to go away knowing that there's much more to the story," Gering says.

On Jan. 19, Juror No. 11, wearing a baseball cap, is sitting at the bus stop outside Courthouse West. He is asked if he was a juror in the Smith case.

He shakes his head slowly and drops his gaze. "No," is all he says.

* Correction: Anne-Marie Gering's first name was initially misspelled Ann Marie in this article. City Paper regrets the error.

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