Opening Statements Heard in Murder Retrial of James Sandidge

More than seven months after jurors failed to reach a verdict, the retrial of James Sandidge began this week with opening statements.

Sandidge, 22, is charged with first-degree murder in connection with the shooting death of 20-year-old Keenan Jerel Lee on October 22, 2011, during Howard University’s homecoming weekend.

Prosecutors say that on the night of the incident, Sandidge acted with “excessive” force, not self-defense, when he shot Lee after Lee punched one of Sandidge’s companions.

Defense Attorney Jonathan Zucker, partly agreed with Pace, explaining that Sandidge could not claim self-defense because Sandidge did not shoot Lee that night.

“The evidence isn’t there,” explained Zucker.

According to Zucker, eye witnesses either misidentified Sandidge or simply could not identify him as the person responsible. But, Zucker said, “whoever killed Keenan Lee did it in self-defense of himself or another.”

Prosecutors believe that on the night of Oct. 22, 2011, Lee drove to Howard University with two of his friends and parked his car on Georgia Avenue Northwest, close to V Street. Shortly after exiting the car, Lee and his two friends were approached by three men, one of whom was Sandidge, Pace said.

Pace described an verbal altercation between Lee and a man from the other group that lead to a physical fight.

“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 suffered from two gunshot wounds, one to the right chest that perforated his heart and another to his left hip, according to the autopsy report. He was pronounced dead later that night.

On the stand Thursday, Lee’s mother Vanessa Barnes recalled the moment when she had to identify her son’s body with tears in her eyes.

It was very difficult to see my son there,” said Barnes.

The trial is scheduled to resume Monday before Judge Lynn Leibovitz.

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