Alan Michael Rangel 

Leonardtown, MD — Fifteen jurors, including three alternates, began Tuesday afternoon Jan. 26 hearing the first-degree murder trial of Alan Rangel in St. Mary’s County Circuit Court. It is expected to last three days.

Rangel, 22, has been charged in connection with the death of Cody Lacey, 21, at a party in Mechanicsville in July of last year. By all accounts Lacey was an innocent bystander in the incident that allegedly began between two other men and escalated into a fight.

A potential juror pool of 160 people crammed into Judge David Densford’s courtroom for the jury selection. The judge asked a number of questions of the jurors that had been submitted by both the state and defense. One of those questions noted that the defendant was African=American and the victim was white and wanted to know if that would prejudice any of the jurors one way or the other. None of the potential jurors responded affirmatively.

But, in his opening statement St. Mary’s County State’s Attorney Richard Fritz said, “I don’t know if it was racism or just fighting.” Fritz said the whole incident began with Demetrius Jose Burks-Jeffrey, a friend of the defendant, charging into Christopher Kaufman on the porch of the home in Mechanicsville where the party was taking place that was attended by upwards of 100 young people. The party was hosted by Joshua Cox while his parents were away on vacation.

Fritz told the jurors, “I don’t know if the evidence will show why the fight started,” and there was no testimony of that during the questioning of the prosecution’s first five witnesses.

Fritz said that Rangel fired two shots into the air and a third one at Kaufman, striking Lacey instead. But in his opening arguments, public defender Ryan Posey said it was all a mistake, while not denying that Rangel fired the shot that killed Lacey.

“Alan Rangel never meant to hurt anyone. He was just trying to protect his friend,” Posey explained, alleging that Kaufman was in the process of reaching for a gun that was on the ground and that Rangel feared for what might happen to his friend, Burks-Jeffrey. Posey said all three were intended to be warning shots.

Fritz warned the jury that the defense would be making that argument. But he said the evidence would show that the gun on the ground had been dropped by Wade Joshua Braithwaite. also a friend of Rangel’s and who was charged by the state with being an assessory after the fact to first-degree murder. Braithwaite was not granted immunity and is on the list of witnesses expected to be called to the stand.

During his testimony Kaufman denied that he even saw a gun much less was reaching for one as had been alleged by Posey in his opening argument.

Kaufman also corroborated the prosecutor’s opening argument by saying he heard three shots fired, two in rapid succession and then a short pause before the third shot was fired and Lacey fell, mortally wounded.

The state has granted immunity to Burks-Jeffrey and to another co-defendant Amanda Hartman in exchange for their testimony which is expected to come later in the trial.

Fritz explained to the jurors the doctrine of “transferred intent” which means if you shoot at someone and miss them but hit and kill someone else you are equally guilty of first-degree murder. “Intent follows the bullet,” he explained.

Fritz predicted to the jurors that there would be a number of witnesses during the trial from the party on the evening of July 24-25, 2015, but he said each would add another piece to the puzzle of what happened that night.

Testimony was not consistent on some details from the state’s first five witnesses, although they essentially corroborated the core facts of the case implicating Rangel. Two witnesses were able to identify Rangel as the person who fired the shot that killed Lacey

Rangel is also represented by public defender Matthew Connell, and the two attorneys are alternating asking questions of the prosecution’s witnesses. Assistant State’s Attorney Buffy Giddens is assisting Fritz in his prosecution of the case.

Contact Dick Myers at dick.myers@thebaynet.com