Counsel Deliver Final Arguments in 2018 Murder Case

Closing statements were made in the trial for a Baltimore man accused of first-degree murder before Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge John A. Howard nearly three years after his original trial took place.

Jaquan Burks, 28, is charged with first-degree murder, second-degree murder, use of a firearm during a violent crime, possession of a firearm with a felony conviction, and having a handgun on his person. 

According to the prosecutor, Burks allegedly shot and killed Emmanuel Cruz on July 9, 2018, outside of a bar on 400 block of N. Haven Street.

The prosecutor’s closing statements focused on the physical evidence from the scene and witness testimonies that all pointed to Burks being the killer in this crime. Multiple witnesses identified Burks as the suspect based on separate photo arrays provided by police. The testimonies also corroborated with each other in court. 

Casings, fragments, and bullets recovered from the scene of the crime were identified as being fired from the same weapon. A shirt that the defendant left at the scene was also recovered and tested for evidence, which confirmed that it had Burks’ DNA on it. 

Defense attorney Bradley Shepherd said he was extremely critical of the police’s work in handling the case and collecting evidence during his closing statements. He said that once the police found their narrative about the crime, they were quick to dismiss conflicting evidence. 

Witnesses at the scene of the crime were not considered to be potential suspects, and the police failed to recover the victim’s shirt, nor were any phones recovered, despite testimony that there were text messages between involved parties leading up to the crime. Also, the police did not obtain video evidence to confirm one of the witnesses’ stories, nor did they question the witness’s friends who picked him up nearby the crime scene. 

Shepherd said all of the witnesses at the crime had a vested interest in the outcome and should have been considered potential suspects.

One witness was seen by police to be rummaging through the victim’s pockets as he laid on the ground, providing testimony that did not line up with other details of the crime. Furthermore, it was revealed that another witness was under the effects of alcohol and cocaine at the time of the incident. 

Shepherd argued that Burks’ co-defendant, Jessalyn Nelson, changed her story so she could be released from jail and return to her son. Nelson took a plea deal in 2019 for 10 years, suspending 9 years, 6 months and 8 days with three years on supervised probation for accessory after the fact to first-degree murder.

During the trial, Nelson, 24, chose not to answer questions about the incident.

Her cellmate in jail also testified that Nelson told her she admitted to shooting Cruz on the night of the incident. 

The prosecutor was critical of this testimony during re-direct, saying it was likely that the cellmate was recently contacted by Shepherd or by Burks himself, since she grew up with Burks. 

Burks’ case was previously reversed in appellate court due to errors made in his initial trial during jury selection.