ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland Court of Special Appeals Tuesday upheld the conviction of a Landover man in an April 10, 1994 murder there, rejecting his claim that he acted in self-defense.
The court sustained the second-degree murder conviction of Theopolis James Hall, 20, tried in March 1995 in Prince George’s County Circuit Court for the shooting death of James Fowler. The shooting occurred in the 1700 block of Belle Haven Drive in the Belle Haven Apartments complex.
Judges Glenn Harrell, Theodore Bloom and Ellen Hollander also affirmed Hall’s other conviction, for “use of a handgun in a crime of violence.” As a result, Hall will continue serving a 30- year prison sentence without parole.
Mary Ellen Barbera, the assistant attorney general who handled the appeal for the state, said that Hall bore a heavy burden in trying to overturn the previous decision. The appellate court is required by law to give weight to the jury’s decision in the original trial, she said.
For that reason, Hall’s lawyers “essentially ha[d] to show there was no evidence to back the jury’s finding,” Barbera said.
There was significant evidence to refute Hall’s self-defense claim, she said, including testimony that “he went away, came back with a handgun and shot the victim.”
In the one-page decision, the judges accepted that the conflict began with Fowler punching Hall without provocation. After others pulled the pair apart, Hall ran from the area. He returned minutes later with a handgun, exchanged words with Fowler, then fired several shots. Fowler was struck in the head and chest and killed.
“A rational jury could reasonably conclude from the evidence that [Hall] did not act in self-defense,” the written decision stated.
Hall’s public defenders, Stephen Harris and Gina Serra, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. But in their written appellate brief, they portrayed the events leading to the shooting differently, while conceding that Hall pulled the trigger.
Just before the shooting, Hall returned to the scene of the earlier scuffle to ask someone “to walk home with him when Fowler again approached him making more threats,” the brief said.
Hall pulled his gun and asked to be left alone, and shot the victim only after Fowler continued to come forward antagonistically, the brief stated. Hall “had seen Fowler with a weapon a few weeks before this incident,… was aware of Fowler’s violent nature, and… feared for his life,” the brief said. But in the state’s written brief before the Court of Special Appeals, the attorney general’s office noted that Fowler was unarmed when killed. -30-