After a Capitol Heights man was charged in the fatal shooting of his 17-year-old ex-girlfriend last summer, sheriff's deputies in Prince George's County admitted to mishandling a felony warrant for the man on a prior offense and failing to arrest him.
But it's unlikely a jury deciding the fate of Marcus Shipman, 24, will hear about the previous incident, in which he was accused of threatening with a gun the same girl, LaCole Hines, two weeks before her death.
"It's dangerous ground to allow that," Prince George's County Circuit Judge Beverly J. Woodard said before banning attorneys from mentioning it Monday, the first day of Mr. Shipman's murder trial. "I feel it will come back in court [on appeal]. I really do."
The trial began with no mention of the incident and instead focused on arguments that Mr. Shipman and Hines had over custody of their baby boy, who was only a month old when Hines was shot in the back of the head on Aug. 9, 2010.
Prosecutors said Mr. Shipman lured Hines to the Landover liquor store where she was shot with promises he would drop off the baby, who was in his custody at the time.
"He had one thing in mind, and that was to put a bullet in LaCole," said Assistant State's Attorney Ann Wagner-Stewart in opening arguments.
Mr. Shipman's attorney, public defender Dan Moskov, said Hines' death was "a botched robbery" committed by two other men who blamed Mr. Shipman to get off the hook.
"The state thinks they have their man," Mr. Moskov said, adding in his opening arguments that Mr. Shipman's DNA was not found on the handgun recovered by Prince George's County police.
Two friends of Hines' testified Monday that they went with her to Brightseat Liquors to meet Mr. Shipman and pick up the baby several hours before she was killed. One of the friends, Andre Luckett, testified that when they arrived, the blue BMW in which Mr. Shipman was riding pulled away, leaving Hines angry and frustrated enough that she later punched a hole in the wall of a friend's apartment.
"He was playing mind games with her the whole time," Mr. Luckett testified.
Several hours later, Hines set off for the liquor store a second time, believing she would be able to retrieve her child, said Tybrina Nickens, a longtime friend of Hines' who allowed Hines to use her cellphone to call Mr. Shipman.
"Marcus said he was bringing the baby to the liquor store," Ms. Nickens said. Hines "was angry but at the same time talking because she wanted her baby back."
It was just after 3 p.m. when Hines stepped into Brightseat Liquors and a man seen on surveillance video wearing a mask shot her once in the back of the head, according to police reports. She remained on life support in a hospital for three days before she died.
The baby, now a year old, bears his father's name but is in the custody of Hines' father.
After the shooting, prosecutors said Mr. Shipman and a 16-year-old acquaintance drove away from the liquor store in a stolen car, bailed out down the road and ran through the woods, tossing a gun, cellphone battery and their shirts along the way. The two were arrested by Prince George's County police later that day about a half-mile from the liquor store.
Mr. Moskov said the 16-year-old driver, who gave a false name to police, is an "opportunist" who is pointing the finger at Mr. Shipman to protect himself.
Hines' slaying garnered heightened attention from politicians and law enforcement agencies when it came to light that a felony arrest warrant for Mr. Shipman had gone unserved after it was filed July 26 - two weeks before Hines was killed.
The Prince George's County Sheriff's Office admitted that the warrant had been misfiled among misdemeanor warrants and that deputies had made no attempts to track down Mr. Shipman for the previous charge that he had threatened Hines.
A week before to that incident, Mr. Shipman was arrested on a second-degree assault charge for beating up a different woman, his girlfriend at the time. In that case, he posted bond and was released a day later.
"They had him, and they released him, and he went down to do what he said," said Hines' father, Ricky Hines, who was in the courtroom Monday. "I do hold them accountable."
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