On August 13, 1994, a birthday cookout at a home in Aspen Hill, Maryland erupted in a melee involving two groups of young men that culminated in the fatal stabbing of Paul Simmons.
Based on eyewitness accounts and photographs taken at the party, 19-year-old Jermaine Arrington, of Gaithersburg, Maryland was arrested and charged with the murder.
Arrington went on trial in Montgomery County Circuit Court in August 1995. Two witnesses identified Arrington as Simmons’ attacker. Three other witnesses testified they heard Arrington tell Simmons that he had “shanked” him with a knife.
A crime lab analyst testified that tests showed blood stains on sweatpants taken from Arrington when he was arrested were consistent with Simmons’ blood.
Arrington was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
On April 18, 2003, Arrington’s request for DNA testing on the blood-stained sweatpants was granted. The testing showed the blood was not Simmons’ blood. A motion for a new trial, however, was denied because the trial court judge ruled the blood evidence had a minimal effect on the jury’s decision.
On November 17, 2009, the Maryland Court of Appeals reversed and ordered a new trial. The appeals court found the DNA test results significant, particularly since the jury, during deliberation, raised a question about the bloodstain evidence.
On October 18, 2010, Arrington went on trial again. The witnesses who identified him at his first trial did so again. The defense offered the DNA test results, as well as testimony that witnesses had told police that the person who stabbed Simmons had his hair in braids. Photographs taken at the party showed Arrington wore his hair in an Afro.
Arrington’s defense attorneys at his first trial knew that evidence of the difference in hair styles had been noted by two witnesses as well as a police officer prior to Arrington’s first trial, but failed to present the evidence.
After two hours of deliberation, the jury acquitted Arrington and he was released.
– Maurice Possley