Mistrial Declared in James Sandidge Murder Case

Judge Lynn Leibovitz declared a mistrial Wednesday in the case against James Sandidge, after the jury notified the court for the second time that they were deadlocked.

Sandidge is charged with first-degree murder in connection with the shooting death of Keenan Jerel Lee in October 2011.

The jury has deliberated since July 24. During deliberations, jurors expressed concerns about their contact with other observers in the case believed to be family members of either Sandidge or Lee. On Wednesday, the jury foreperson told the court that the jury had again reached an impasse, though eleven jurors were prepared to find Sandidge guilty of manslaughter.

Sandidge’s defense attorney, Jonathan Zucker, argued that there was no strong evidence that Sandidge was the shooter, but whoever fired on Lee was acting in self-defense. Prosecutor George Pace argued that Sandidge “brought a gun to a fist fight” and responded disproportionately, firing four times.

According to trial testimony, on October 22, 2011, Lee made plans with friends Mikel Barnes and Raymond McLean to go Howard University’s Homecoming to flirt with the women that would be in the area. The three men drank during the day and Pace acknowledged Lee was “probably being a nuisance” that evening at a McDonald’s near Howard University because of his alcohol consumption.

After the 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 he was “100 percent sure, no doubt in my mind” that he recognized Sandidge from that night.

According to Barnes, the shooting took place after Lee and a “short man” from the other group got into a verbal altercation. Barnes and Sandidge had recognized each other as eighth grade classmates, and so they 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 fleeing the scene. Given a photo array by police officers, Barnes circled Sandidge’s picture and later told the grand jury that Sandidge shot Lee.

Judge Leibovitz denied a motion to release Sandidge to a high intensity supervision program following the mistrial.

A status hearing for the case is set for August 26.

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