Deliberations Begin in Murder Case Against James Sandidge

Jurors began deliberating Wednesday in the murder case charging James Sandidge with the murder of Keenan Jerel Lee; they are weighing charges of first-degree mruder and three related weapons charges.

Sandidge’s defense attorney has argued that Sandidge is innocent and that the person responsible for Lee’s death— whoever it is— was acting in self-defense.

Prosecutors, though, say Sandidge is the man who fired at Lee, striking and killing him.

In closing arguments Wednesday, Prosecutor George Pace recounted evidence the government presented in the three-day trial, telling jurors that on October 22, 2011, the night Lee was killed, Lee made plans with friends Mikel Barnes and Raymond McLean to go Howard University’s Homecoming to flirt with the women that would be out that night.

Lee and Barnes stopped into a McDonald’s on their way to the festivities, Pace said. He acknowledge that Lee had been drinking and was “probably being a nuisance” at the restaurant. After McDonald’s trip, the friends parked at the intersection of V Street and Georgia Avenue NW and stood outside the car. Then three men, one of whom was Sandidge, approached.

Barnes testified Tuesday that he was “100 percent sure, no doubt in my mind” that he recognized Sandidge from that night. In his testimony to a Grand Jury, he said it was Sandidge who shot his friend.

He said the shooting took place after Lee and a “short man” from the other group exchanged heated words. Barnes and Sandidge then recognized each other as eighth grade classmates, shook hands and agreed the situation was cool.

Then, as Sandidge and the two other men began to leave, Lee called out insults after them and asked if they had a gun. Barnes testified that when the short man answered, “We do,” Lee turned and punched the man, knocking him to the ground.

Barnes said he then watched Sandidge fire four shots before running away. Later he would run back to help his friend, he testified. Given a photo array by police officers, Barnes circled Sandidge’s picture and later told the grand jury that Sandidge shot Lee.

Prosecutor George Pace summed up that testimony in closing arguments, telling jurors that Sandidge “brought a gun to a fist fight” and shot Lee four times. It was a response that was “wholly disproportionate,” Pace said.

But Defense Attorney Jonathan Zucker warned jurors against believing Barnes’ testimony, warning that to do so, and finding Sandidge guilty, would be a “travesty of justice.”

Zucker told jurors that Barnes’s “memory of the event is changing to fit what he believes occurred.” In a police interrogation video recorded the night of Lee’s death, Barnes never mentions the name “James.” “Why does Barnes not remember these details?” Zucker asked the jurors.

Zucker also reminded jurors that two other witnesses, Lee’s friend, Raymond McLean, and a Metro employee who witnessed the fight, did not identify Sandidge in photo line ups after the shooting.

Jurors began deliberating at about 3 p.m. Wednesday and were due back to continue deliberations Thursday morning.

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