Without offering an explanation, the United States Attorney’s office on Wednesday requested and received permission from a judge to dismiss the case against a D.C. man charged with the July 2013 murder of gay District resident Randolph Scott Harris Jr.
At the time of his Aug. 1 arrest, D.C. police stated in an affidavit that Jermaine Brown, 34, allegedly shot Harris three times in Harris’s apartment at 1034 Euclid St., N.W. on July 26, 2013 while attempting to rob him.
The D.C. Medical Examiner determined that Harris, who worked for a contractor that provides services for 7-Eleven stores, died of both gunshot wounds and severe burns. The affidavit says Harris appears to have been set on fire while alive and seated on a wicker chair in the living room of his apartment.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office told the Blade on Friday that the “murder investigation is continuing” in the Harris case.
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office typically does not comment on charging decisions, and because the investigation is ongoing, has no comment on this particular case,” said spokesperson William Miller.
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Metropolitan Police Department are continuing work on the case and urge anyone with information to come forward,” Miller said.
The abrupt decision to drop the case against Brown is likely to raise concern among Harris’s family members and friends, who had expressed shock over the murder.
Attorney Dale Edwin Sanders, who practices criminal law in D.C. and Virginia, said the government’s decision to drop the case without prejudice suggests that prosecutors believe they lack sufficient evidence to secure a conviction against Brown.
“The United States of America, by and through its attorney, the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, hereby moves the court to dismiss the above-captioned case without prejudice,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Holly R. Shick stated in a motion on Wednesday in D.C. Superior Court.
“The United States also moves the Court to order the immediate release of the above-captioned defendant, who is currently held without bond in this case,” Shick said in her motion.
Shick’s motion also called for the court to cancel an arraignment for Brown that had been scheduled for today and called for the cancellation of his trial, which had been scheduled for Jan. 26, 2015.
Judge Ronna L. Beck approved the motion and issued an order carrying out each of the motion’s requests, including the immediate release of Brown from the D.C. Jail, where he had been held since the time of his arrest.
Under D.C. law, the dismissal of a case without prejudice means prosecutors can reinstate the case at a later date. Such a dismissal is sometimes requested when prosecutors determine they lack sufficient evidence to secure a conviction.
In Brown’s case, the U.S. Attorney’s office requested and received permission from the court last September, over the objection of defense attorney David Maxted, to obtain a DNA sample from Brown through a tissue swab.
Sanders said a negative finding indicating that possible DNA samples taken from the crime scene didn’t match the sample taken from Brown could have played a role in the government’s decision to drop the case.
“To me, a big red flag is the DNA swab,” Sanders said. “It could have come back negative. My intuition is the DNA sample came back negative.”
The D.C. police affidavit filed in court at the time of Brown’s arrest suggested that police and prosecutors had additional evidence on which to base their decision to charge Brown in the case.
Among other things, the affidavit says homicide detectives initially linked Brown to the murder after discovering he was in possession of items missing from Harris’s apartment, including iPhones and an iPad. It says Brown later admitted using a “spare key” to take Harris’s Mercedes SUV, which was reported stolen from the apartment building where Harris lived.
“He reported that he would visit the decedent, who he called by the nickname ‘Man,’ the police affidavit says. “[H]owever, he said he had just met Man. Defendant 1 [Brown] referred to Man as gay and that Man tried to ‘holla’ at him (tried to establish a relationship),” the affidavit says.
“[H]e denied ever ‘going that way’ because something is wrong with it and he sees a problem with it,” the affidavit says in referring to Harris’s sexual orientation. “He described it as being nasty.”
Gay activists have expressed concern over past cases in which suspects charged with killing or assaulting a gay man have invoked the so-called gay panic defense. The defense involves claims by defendants that they killed or assaulted a gay man after the gay man allegedly propositioned them for sex, causing the defendant to panic and commit a violent act that should be excused as a form of self-defense.
Maxted, Brown’s attorney with the D.C. Public Defender Service, didn’t respond to a request by the Blade for comment on the case.
Anthony Lorenzo Green, a Ward 8 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner who’s gay, told the Blade at the time of Brown’s arrest that he and Harris were in a relationship in 2007 and remained close friends after the relationship ended. Green said most people who knew Harris knew he was gay and that his sexual orientation didn’t matter.
“He was a giving person. He wouldn’t try to take advantage of anyone,” Green said. “This just burns me up that this would happen to somebody who was such a loving person.”