On March 24, 2008, 36-year-old Robert Long was found lying on the ground next to railroad tracks near Carroll Park in Baltimore, Maryland. He had been fatally shot in the head.
Demetrius Smith, 25, was arrested on July 10, 2008 and charged with first-degree murder after police found two witnesses who said they were in the park at the time of the murder and identified Smith as the gunman.
The case made headlines when a judge, in a rare move in a first-degree murder case, set Smith’s bond at $350,000. Smith posted bond a day later. But he was locked up again on August 24, 2008, when he was charged with shooting a neighbor in the leg during an attempted robbery.
Smith went to trial in Baltimore City Circuit Court in January 2010.
Michelle McVicker testified that she was walking to her methadone treatment program when she saw Smith and Long engaged in conversation, walking toward the railroad tracks. She was unsure of the location of the murder and could not remember if she heard two shots or three (two shell casings were found next to Long’s body). She said that she saw Long running before he was shot, although in a previous statement to authorities, she said he was running after he was shot.
A medical examiner testified that Long was shot at close range while he was standing.
Mark Bartlett, a convicted thief and drug dealer, testified that he was standing at a pay phone near the park trying to arrange to purchase heroin when he saw Long and Smith walk out of an alley toward the railroad tracks.
Bartlett said he had known Long since kindergarten. He said had known Smith for about two years because at times he purchased heroin from Smith and at other times, he sold heroin to Smith.
Bartlett said that Long came to his door early on the morning of March 24th with two other men and they wanted to trade heroin for crack cocaine. Bartlett said that he made the deal and recognized the heroin because of its unique packaging—gel caps that were sealed with transparent tape. Bartlett said that only Smith sold heroin in that form and so he believed that somehow Long had stolen Smith’s stash, which he estimated was worth $7,000.
Bartlett said he saw Smith shoot Long in the face. He told the jury that he had been arrested for a probation violation on May 8, 2008 and reached out to police to tell them about the shooting. He identified Smith in a photographic lineup and in court.
A police detective testified that he located McVicker from confidential informants.
Smith’s attorney, in his cross-examination of police, sought to suggest that the real killer was José Morales, a long-time drug dealer and conman, for whom Long had worked for years. Thirteen days before Long was killed, he had agreed to cooperate with law enforcement in prosecuting Morales.
Smith’s sister testified that Smith was home at the time of the murder. A woman who operated a community service program near where Long was killed testified she was in the park when she heard gunfire and saw a young black man flee the park wearing a hooded sweatshirt. She said the man was not Smith.
On January 19, 2010, Smith was convicted of first-degree murder and use of a handgun in the commission of a crime. He was sentenced to life in prison. He then pled no contest to the shooting in the unrelated attempted robbery case and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
While the case was on appeal, federal authorities were investigating Morales for smuggling narcotics. The investigation turned up evidence that Morales had ordered someone to kill Long because he had learned that Long had agreed to cooperate with authorities attempting to prosecute him.
On August 1, 2012, state prosecutors asked that Smith’s conviction be vacated and the case was dismissed. By that time, McVicker had recanted her trial testimony as false and Bartlett was dead.
On September 11, 2012, Morales, who by then was serving a nearly 22-year prison term for narcotics trafficking, was indicted by a federal grand jury on a charge of using his mobile telephone to order the killing of Long. In February 2013, Morales pled guilty to smuggling narcotics into the federal prison where he was serving his drug sentence.
In October 2013, Morales was convicted on the federal charge of using his phone to order Long’s murder. No one had been charged with firing the shots that killed Long. Smith was released on the robbery case in May 2013.
– Maurice Possley