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MD- Prosecutors Say Man Is Getaway Driver

8-25-2008 Maryland:

Suspect Encouraged Waldorf Shooting, Charles Jurors Told

In the first two days of William Coates's murder trial, prosecutors made no attempt to prove he fired the shots that killed Joseph G. Hickman as he sat on a friend's porch in Waldorf in October.

To them, who fired the shots is irrelevant.

"Ultimately, ladies and gentlemen, it doesn't matter who pulled the trigger that day," Charles County Deputy State's Attorney Jerome Spencer told jurors in his opening statement. "This man's the getaway driver."

Coates and James F. Swann, 33, were charged with first-degree murder and other related counts in the Oct. 3 shooting of Hickman, 71, a lumber mill owner.

Swann was convicted of second-degree murder in June. At his trial, he admitted to drunkenly shooting in Hickman's direction in an attempt to shoot someone else. His target, Swann testified, was a man whom he suspected had sexually molested his sister in her youth.

Prosecutors said Coates, 29, encouraged the shooting and is equally culpable under Maryland law. Police testified that minutes after the incident, they found Coates driving a car away from the townhouse where Hickman was shot. Swann was sitting in the passenger seat of that car, which police stopped after it did not yield to deputies entering the neighborhood.

Defense attorneys said Swann, not Coates, is the man to blame.

"One man. One motive," defense attorney Tiffany Harvey told jurors in her opening statement. "That man was James Francis Swann. . . . My client did not assist. He did not help. He did not participate in any way in the events that led up to Mr. Hickman's death."

Swann was sentenced to life in prison this month and has appealed the conviction. During his trial, he did not provide any clear indication of what Coates knew about the shooting. He testified that Coates probably heard shots and that the two probably talked in the car. He said he could not remember what was said. He testified he and Coates had been drinking and hanging out before the shooting.

Much of the evidence presented in the first two days of Coates's trial was focused on Swann. A cousin of the two men who lives in the area where the shooting took place testified that Swann showed up at her house shortly after the shots were fired.

A fingerprint specialist with the Charles County Sheriff's Office testified he found Swann's fingerprint on a box of ammunition near the crime scene. He did not find Coates's fingerprints on the box.

Spencer, the prosecutor, seemed to be laying the groundwork of what happened night of the shooting. Multiple witnesses testified to having heard shots Oct. 3.

Dennis Duckett, who was on the porch with Hickman and who Swann previously said was the man who had molested his sister, testified that the shooter was wearing a mask. A neighbor said he saw two men, one taller than the other, running along a wooded area shortly after the shots were fired.

Spencer also seemed to be hinging his case on inconsistencies in Coates's statements to police. A detective testified that Coates said he was at his cousin's house when the shots were fired. The cousin testified she had not seen Coates that day.

Testimony was to continue through the week. ..News Source.. by Matt Zapotosky, Washington Post Staff Writer

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