James Sandidge’s Defense Attorney: Keenan Lee was Killed in Self-Defense

Prosecutors and defense counsel in the murder trial of James Sandidge agree on one thing: 20-year-old Keenan Jerel Lee had engaged in a brief physical altercation moments before he was shot and killed.

But that is where the agreement ends.

Prosecutors say Sandidge, who is charged with first-degree murder, shot Lee, who was unarmed.

Jonathan Zucker, Sandidge’s defense attorney, says that Lee had a history of violence, and that the person who shot him was acting in self-defense.

Those statements, made during opening arguments in the case Monday, laid the foundation for jurors charged with determining Sandidge’s guilt in Lee’s death.

Prosecutors argued that on the night of Oct. 22, 2011, Lee drove to Howard University with two of his friends. Assistant U.S. Attorney George Pace told jurors that, according to the government’s case, after some drinks, and a stop at a nearby McDonald’s, Lee parked the car near V Street and Georgia Avenue Northwest to flirt with some women. Before Lee and his friends crossed the street, they were approached by three men, one of whom was Sandidge, Pace said.

Pace told jurors that as Sandidge and one of Lee’s friends shook hands, Lee and one of the other men exchanged words.

“You talking like you got that joint,” Lee said, Pace told jurors, adding that in this context prosecutors understood “joint” to mean gun.

The man replied, “Yeah, we do.” Then Lee told him, “Watch this,” pivoted, and punched the man, Pace said.

Sandidge, who was standing behind the fallen man, then raised a gun and fired at Lee, Pace argued.

Lee arrived at a local hospital that night with a gunshot wound, police said in a press release. Police determined he had been shot in the 2200 block of Georgia Avenue Northwest around 10:00 p.m. He was pronounced dead at the hospital. Sandidge was arrested about one week later.

But Zucker says police have the wrong man in custody. And that the shooter, whoever it was, was acting in self-defense.

Raymond McLean testified Monday that he, Mikel Barnes and Lee had driven to Howard University’s homecoming to “check out the females.” After Lee parked the car, McLean stayed inside to clean the backseat. Three people then approached the car, McLean said, and a light-skinned man shook hands with Barnes.

McLean told jurors a shorter man was “running his mouth” at Lee as Lee walked backward toward the trunk of the car. Lee threw one punch, McLean said, and then “the light-skinned guy pulled something out of his pocket and started shooting.”

Zucker argued that Sandidge was not that person, but even so, with the amount of evidence in favor of self-defense, “I would be remiss if I didn’t help present the case that whoever killed Mr. Lee has done this in defense of themself or another.”

McLean also testified that he recalls the shooter having dreadlocks, and wearing glasses and a dark colored coat. About two months after the shooting, when McLean was asked to identify the suspect in a lineup, he was unable to.

I wasn’t for sure,” McLean said Monday. “I didn’t want to blame the wrong person.”

The trial will resume Tuesday in Judge Lynn Leibovitz’s courtroom.

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