Homicide Defendant Takes Plea After Trial Concludes, Before Jury Reaches Verdict

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Homicide defendant Jaquan Terrell Burks opted to take a plea offer on March 14 after his trial concluded, but while jurors were still in deliberations.

The 29-year-old defendant’s four-day trial concluded the day before in connection to the fatal shooting just before 2:00 a.m. outside Haven Place Go-Go strip club and bar on the 400 block of N. Haven Street on July 9, 2018.

As jury deliberations began Tuesday morning, court documents state, Burks decided to plead guilty to illegal possession of a firearm for 15 years, suspending all but 10 years, three months, and 24 days, and three years of supervised probation—a sentence that began July 8, 2018. Under the plea, Burks must stay away from the strip club, have no contact with any of the prosecution’s witnesses, and stay employed or attend school during his probation.

Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Schiffer dismissed the jurors after the plea.

When Burks’ girlfriend sent him a text message about the victim on the night of the shooting, “that signed Emmanuel Cruz’s death warrant,” the prosecutor told jurorsrt during her closing argument.

Burks’ girlfriend and co-defendant, 25-year-old Jessalyn Nelson, contacted Burks about Cruz “disrespecting” her. Nelson—who took a plea deal for accessory after the fact to first-degree murder in 2019—testified earlier in the trial, telling jurors that the night was uneventful until everyone went outside to smoke.

The prosecutor reminded the jury that Nelson testified to seeing the handgun.

Outside, Burks told Nelson he was going back inside the strip club to use the bathroom and then when he returned, he came out with a beer bottle and smashed it on the victim’s head. The club manager, another witness in the trial, also informed the court that he saw the shooter take off his black shirt and fire the gun at Cruz.

The victim was shot six times, the prosecutor proclaimed, three of which were to the back after he had already fallen to the ground.

Baltimore Police later confirmed the shirt belonged to Burks and recovered shell casings from the scene.

“Jaquan Burks shot and killed Emmanuel Cruz because he was disrespectful to his girlfriend,” the prosecutor said.

When it was time for her closing argument, defense attorney Isabel Lipman said she found three of the prosecution’s witnesses “each more problematic than the next,” specifically Nelson, the club manager, and another man who allegedly witnessed the shooting.

Lipman claimed the club manager was not reliable given he was under the influence of narcotics and alcohol at the time of the incident and did not call police until 4:19 a.m. Police protocols were also violated during the photo array, she explained, as the officers asked the club manager to take a second look.

The defense attorney briefly discussed the unreliability of another man who supposedly witnessed the crime, but then moved onto Nelson’s testimony.

Nelson was “trying to walk a fine line,” Lipman said, “giving the [prosecution] just enough [information] so she won’t get into trouble again.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, she is not to be believed,” the defense attorney concluded.

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