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Skylor Harmon

Other Maryland Exonerations
On the evening of May 26, 2010, 22-year-old Reginald Handy Jr. was shot to death outside Norman Crawley’s house in Pocomoke City, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

At the time of the shooting, Handy was standing next to 27-year-old Torrance “Gator” Davis, who had been engaged in a long-running argument with Alexander Crippen over the attention Davis was paying to Crippen’s girlfriend. A week before the shooting, the men came to blows, and Skylor Harmon, Crippen’s 17-year-old nephew, tried to assist his uncle.

Davis, Handy, and Crawley were in front of the house, when Crippen walked toward them. Suddenly, a series of shots rang out, first a loud noise, followed by several smaller noises. Davis saw Crippen running away, toward the home of his girlfriend, Shana Harmon, which was about 200 feet from Crawley’s house. (Shana is of no relation to Skylor Harmon.)

The Pocomoke City Police Department and the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office investigated the shooting and began a search for Crippen.

A day after the shooting, a police officer received a tip to search an area near Shana Harmon’s house for an assault rifle, and officers found an AR-15 Bushmaster rifle wrapped up in a blanket in a grassy area near her driveway. The search also yielded a .223 shell casing.

Several days later, a woman named Rasheema Schoolfield told Davis that she had seen Skylor Harmon holding a “big gun” prior to the shooting near Shana’s house and that he was “hiding behind” Schoolfield when he shot toward Davis and Handy.

Investigators found several .45 caliber casings and .45 caliber bullets near Crawley’s house. They also found six .380 caliber shell casings. Weapons consistent with casings and bullets were not found.

A video camera on a pole near the house showed Crippen firing several shots, and the police initially believed that Crippen had killed Handy. But the bullet recovered from Handy’s body, while too damaged to be precisely identified, was examined and found to be inconsistent with a bullet from a handgun but consistent with a bullet fired from a Bushmaster rifle.

On May 28, 2010, police located Crippen and Skylor Harmon in a motel in Delmar, Maryland, and they were arrested and taken to the Maryland State Police Barracks in Salisbury.

Trooper Kyle Clark interviewed Harmon, who said he was with Crippen in front of Crippen’s house at the time of the shooting. He said that Crippen did not have a gun. Clark asked Harmon who had guns that night, and Harmon responded that “everybody had guns.” He later said he was joking.

Harmon was charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, and two counts of reckless endangerment. Crippen was charged with, and later convicted of, attempted first-degree murder.

Harmon’s first trial in Worcester County Circuit Court ended in a mistrial in May 2011. His second trial began on October 18, 2011.

Davis testified about his feud with Crippen and the layout of the neighborhood. He testified under a grant of use immunity, which didn’t allow his testimony to be the basis for other charges, and said that he was not getting anything in exchange for his testimony.

Schoolfield testified that she heard four shots while walking back to Shana Harmon’s house and then ran to her van, which was parked in the driveway. She said she saw Skylor Harmon squatting behind the vehicle, wearing a black hoodie. She also testified that she didn’t see a weapon in his hands.

The state then introduced text messages between Davis and Schoolfield. He asked her: “So I’m the only one you told you seen Skylor by the house with a gun?” She responded: “Yes, who else am I gonna tell.”

Later, Davis testified that Schoolfield had told him that Skylor Harmon had a “big gun” on the night of the shooting, that Harmon hid behind Schoolfield during the shooting, and that Harmon was aiming toward where Davis and Handy stood.

Preston Townsend testified that he saw a “bright flash” near Shana’s house, and, when he looked there, he saw Skylor Harmon with “something long” pressed up against his leg. He also testified that about a week before the shooting, he saw Crippen, accompanied by Harmon, pick up a large item in a blanket or quilt and carry it into Shana Harmon’s house.

Detective Dale Trotter of the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office testified that the AR-15 had a bullet chambered and eight rounds remaining in the 10-round magazine. He said no usable DNA was found on the rifle and that the DNA from the shell casings was “not conclusive.” He said, “Any number of people could have touched the shell casings.”

Jaime Smith, the state’s firearms examiner, testified that the bullet that killed Handy fragmented upon impact and could not be tied to a particular weapon. He testified that it shared “class characteristics” with the Bushmaster but not with a .45 caliber or .380 caliber handgun.

Clark testified about his interview with Harmon at the police barracks, including Harmon’s remark that “everybody had guns.” During cross-examination, Harmon’s attorney asked, “And then it was shortly after he told you he didn’t want to speak anymore?” Clark agreed.

During the redirect, the state asked to approach the bench and told the judge that the defense had “opened the door” to questions about Harmon’s exercise of his Miranda rights to stop the interview and obtain counsel.

“I’d like to explore that with him, but I wanted to bring it to the Court’s attention before, so that [defense counsel] can express any objection if she has any. My thought is she opened the door …”

Harmon’s attorney said: “I don’t understand what you’re saying. Do I want to object because…?"

The trial judge explained that the State was going to ask Clark whether Harmon asked for an attorney and whether the questioning stopped when he did. The defense attorney said: “Okay. Yeah, I don’t have any problem with that.”

Clark now testified that Harmon asked for an attorney and the questioning then stopped. The state repeated this information in closing arguments.

Harmon did not testify. The jury convicted him on all counts on October 20, 2011, and he later received a sentence of life in prison.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals affirmed Harmon’s conviction in 2016.

Harmon then moved for post-conviction relief, claiming that the state had failed to disclose exculpatory evidence and that his trial attorney had provided ineffective representation.

Harmon’s appellate attorney had subpoenaed the file from the Maryland State Police DNA Laboratory. It contained an email from Julie Kempton, a DNA analyst, to another employee stating that the DNA profile found on the shell casings matched that of Smith, the state’s firearms expert, who had handled the casings. In the email, Kempton said she would “call this sample inconclusive in [her] report.” She separately told an assistant state’s attorney that “all cartridge casings were negative, except for one which matched [a] staff member.” Neither of these documents were given to Harmon’s trial attorney. Instead, the disclosed report said, “An identified profile was observed in the [.223] mm shell casing and the data was determined to be unreportable.”

At the time of Harmon’s trial, Davis was facing drug charges that carried a maximum sentence of 45 years in prison, although sentencing guidelines suggested incarceration of three to seven years. The state had offered Davis a plea deal – although no actual agreement had been reached – on dismissing all but one count and recommending a sentence of a year in the county jail. This had not not been disclosed to Harmon’s attorney. Two days before Harmon’s trial, Davis got cold feet and said he would invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. The state then granted him immunity. After the trial, he received a one-year sentence to resolve his drug case.

In regards to the officer who got the tip on the weapon, Harmon claimed that the state didn’t disclose that an internal investigation by the Pocomoke City Police Department found that the officer had falsified reports, which could have been used to undermine her credibility.

Harmon said in the motion that his trial attorney had provided ineffective assistance by allowing the jury to hear that he had exercised his Miranda rights to request an attorney. He also said she should have objected to the introduction of Schoolfield’s text messages to Davis because they were hearsay.

A judge in Worcester County Circuit Court denied Harmon’s motion, and Harmon appealed. Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals vacated Harmon’s conviction on August 20, 2019, and granted him a new trial.

It said the state’s failure to turn over the lab reports prevented Harmon from challenging the testimony of prosecution witnesses. It noted that the state conceded in its brief that Trotter’s testimony about the inconclusive results were “technically incorrect.”

“The State recognizes that the sample was contaminated ‘during testing,’” the court wrote. “Moreover, unbeknownst to the defense, it was contaminated by the State employee who testified as a ballistics expert at trial. It takes little effort to imagine how a zealous defense attorney could exploit that evidence in cross-examination, had the State disclosed it.”

The court said that it couldn’t conclude that Trotter committed perjury, but it speculated that the state used him, rather than a forensic scientist, as a witness because Trotter did not fully understand the report.

The appellate court also said the state should have disclosed its plea offer to Davis, who was the key witness and whose credibility prosecutors vouched for in closing arguments, telling jurors that Davis testified with “complete honesty.” The case against Harmon wasn’t strong, the court noted, because no one had testified they saw him shoot the rifle, and no physical or forensic evidence tied him to the weapon.

The court said that Harmon’s trial attorney had blundered, first by eliciting inadmissible evidence that Harmon had exercised his Miranda rights and then by agreeing with the state that prosecutors could further explore this subject. This was incompetence, not strategy, the court said.

“Because of her apparent unfamiliarity with the rules of evidence and the law pertaining to post-Miranda silence, defense counsel agreed to allow the State to introduce highly prejudicial evidence that the State would never have had the ability to admit on its own,” the court said.

The appellate court also said that the state’s failure to disclose the investigation into the officer wasn’t a disclosure violation and that the trial attorney’s failure to challenge the text messages didn’t rise to the level of ineffective assistance.

After the court’s ruling, Harmon was transferred to the Worcester County Jail. He was acquitted at a retrial on May 14, 2021 and released from jail.

Harmon filed a claim for state compensation with the Maryland Board of Public Works, but the claim was denied in 2022.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 11/14/2022
Last Updated: 11/14/2022
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Attempted Murder, Other Violent Felony
Reported Crime Date:2010
Age at the date of reported crime:17
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No