Man Gets Life Term, But Acquittal in Other Md. Death Is Disputed.
Post, 24 Jan 2009 (Castaneda).
A Prince George's County man was sentenced to life in prison yesterday for one slaying, but prosecutors believe he escaped punishment in another after concocting a false alibi.
Authorities said Donnell L. Hunter admitted in a secretly recorded jail conversation that he was the gunman in a 2006 slaying in Temple Hills and boasted that relatives helped him with a bogus alibi. By then, he had been acquitted by a jury. He cannot be retried.
But Hunter, 38, was subsequently convicted of murder in a 2005 killing at a Suitland nightclub and was sentenced yesterday to life without the possibility of parole.
"This man is a stone-cold killer," State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey said, "and he's 'gamed' the system for the last time."
Late in 2007, a jury took 40 minutes to acquit Hunter in the fatal shooting of Andre White, 28, and the wounding of Dennis Poe outside a Temple Hills apartment complex.
Three months later, Hunter was in the county jail awaiting trial in the 2005 slaying of Shawn Hodges, 33. As prosecutors secretly recorded the conversation, Hunter described the Temple Hills shootings.
"My intention was to kill him," Hunter, known as "Fat Rat," says of Poe, "but I killed his friend because he intervened."
Circuit Court Judge Ronald D. Schiff yesterday described Hunter's remarks about the Temple Hills shootings as "absolutely chilling."
According to prosecutors, Hunter's niece was involved in a dispute with Poe on Aug. 13, 2006. Hunter and Poe argued, prosecutors alleged. White, a friend of Poe's, tried to defuse the argument. Hunter pulled a handgun from his waistband and fired, striking White in the chest and Poe in the leg.
"Boom, just like that, walked straight to them," Hunter says in a transcript of the conversations. "Hit him right in the chest. His head hang just like this."
Prosecutors said Hunter was seen fleeing the scene in his mother-in-law's silver Hyundai. At the trial, his sister Paulette Hunter testified that her boyfriend was driving the car that night.
In the jail transcript, Hunter says his sister testified for him that a fictitious boyfriend drove the Hyundai. "My sister got up there and told on her boyfriend that never exists. That my sister's made-up boyfriend," Hunter said.
Paulette Hunter has not been charged with a crime. She did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Ramon Korionoff, a spokesman for Ivey, said prosecutors are reviewing the testimony in the first trial and might consider filing charges. Donnell Hunter also testified at the trial, telling jurors that he was not present when the killing occurred.
In the transcript of the jail conversations, Hunter says he believes the acquittals resulted from the bogus alibi and the racial composition of a jury he helped select.
"All black," Hunter, who is black, says of the jury. "I crossed every white off. I picked my own jury, man, every one of them."
Hunter's defense attorney in both cases, Harry Tun, said in an interview that he was unaware of his client engineering a false alibi.
"Certainly, I didn't know anything about it," Tun said.
After the acquittal in the 2006 shootings, Hunter remained in jail, held in the killing of Hodges. Prosecutors placed a recording device inside Hunter's cell after receiving a tip from another inmate that Hunter was speaking freely of the slaying of Hodges and other crimes, according to court records.
Starting in December 2007, authorities recorded nearly 26 hours of conversations between Hunter and his cellmate.
Portions that involved the killing of Hodges were presented at Hunter's trial. Prosecutors in the Hodges case also submitted transcripts of the portions involving the Temple Hills shootings, announcing their desire to present them to the jury if Hunter used an alibi defense.
According to police charging documents, Hunter confronted Hodges at the nightclub Classics after Hodges danced with Hunter's wife. Hodges apologized but then danced with Hunter's wife a second time. Hunter and Hodges fought and were expelled from the club.
Outside, the two men again fought, the charging documents say. Then, as Hodges was walking away with two friends, Hunter approached from behind and shot Hodges in the head, the documents say.
At trial, Hunter initially planned on calling alibi witnesses in the Hodges case, prosecutors said. The defense abandoned that plan after prosecutors said they would introduce the transcripts.
In court yesterday, Hunter said he did not kill Hodges. Hunter did not say anything about the Temple Hills shootings. At one point, he quoted from the Bible and then turned to Hodges's mother, Shiriley Hodges.
"I will be your son, if you want me to be because I know I didn't kill your son," he said.
Tun has filed a motion asking for a new trial in the Hodges case.
Staff researcher Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.