Jury mulls fate of accused murderer

Abdul T. White

DOVER — Was he forced into a home invasion that resulted in a shooting death following threats from a reputedly murderous drug dealer?

Or, did Abdul T. White plan and execute the alleged crime two years ago in a quest for money and 50 pounds of marijuana?

On Wednesday jurors heard two widely divergent narratives before beginning to determine the fate of the 32-year-old Philadelphia man charged with the first-degree murder of wheelchair-bound paraplegic John G. Harmon in Milford on Aug. 8, 2015.

Attorneys summed up their contentions in Kent County Superior Court regarding a defendant facing 79 charges. Those charges include possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, second-degree kidnapping, first-degree reckless endangering, possession of a deadly weapon during the commission of a felony, aggravated menacing, endangering the welfare of a child, first-degree conspiracy, wearing a disguise, impersonating a police officer and criminal mischief offenses.

According to defense attorney Edward Gill, Mr. White owed a drug dealer $20,000. He was coerced into stealing drugs at Mr. Harmon’s residence through threats to his own family.

The plan, he said, was to commit the home invasion to settle the debt and protect family members from the drug dealer.

The defense further claimed that Mr. White did not trigger the fatal bullet into the back of Mr. Harmon’s head and the defendant has identified the man who did to police.

Deputy Attorney General Lindsay Taylor, however, argued that five witnesses inside the residence during the home invasion at approximately 6:15 a.m. indicated Mr. White was the only person who entered the bedroom where Mr. Harmon was shot to death.

Prosecutors presented DNA and fingerprint evidence from a mask that Mr. White allegedly wore during the incident that was found in the bedroom, along with witnesses describing his body size and skin tone.

During his time before the jury, Mr. Gill argued that witnesses testified to seeing two or three persons enter the bedroom, and two conspirators fired shots during the supposed incident.

There were 11 people inside the small home in the 500 block of North Walnut Street when it was invaded, Ms. Taylor said, including a 3-month-old baby who was nearly hit by one of two bullets discharged.

The late Mr. Harmon, who stood 6-foot-9, had been wounded when he attempted to fight off an earlier attempted robbery and later cooperated with the prosecution in the case. The prosecution categorized the 2015 home invasion as a payback for that supposedly thwarted attack.

Citing a five-hour interview with Milford Police two years ago, the defense maintained that Mr. White’s story has remained consistent and further investigation would lead police to the actual killer yet to be arrested. The defendant testified on Tuesday and recited the same version, according to Mr. Gill.

Also, others who might have been involved in the incident had refused to cooperate with investigators like Mr. White had, Mr. Gill maintained.

According to the prosecution, though, Mr. White was identified as the shooter by a person who saw a suspect with a “P” tattooed on his face emerge from the bedroom after shots were fired.

Alleged incident described

Once the supposed shooter entered the bedroom, according to the prosecution, Mr. Harmon was duct taped to his wheelchair and other occupants were ordered to lay on the floor. Also, a family member was duct taped to a couch, the DAG argued.

“He was fighting for his life, he was fighting for his family and that man shot him in the back of the head for his struggles,” Ms. Taylor said.

The prosecution claimed Mr. White had returned to Delaware from Miami, Florida to “get a cut” of the proceeds from marijuana believed to be at Mr. Harmon’s residence. The defendant had been inside the residence before to “case” it, Ms. Taylor said.

Though no marijuana was found at the home, according to Ms. Taylor, a witness allegedly saw the defendant counting money as he supposedly fled from the home.

“He moved with meaning, he moved with firm direction throughout the event,” Ms. Taylor said.

Witnesses claimed Mr. White used a walkie-talkie to apparently communicate with someone outside the home and allegedly asked “What do you want me to do now?” at one point.

Due to a traumatic childhood full of severe mental, physical and sexual abuse, the defense said, Mr. White was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and susceptible to coercion. When a drug dealer allegedly threatened him to do the home invasion or endanger his family, according to Mr. Gill, Mr. White lacked the capacity to go to police to report the incidents.

As a youth, Mr. White watched as his grandfather was beaten by police he had called to stop an attack on his grandmother, according to the defense, and the defendant’s father had died from an intentional poisoning from a drug dealer early in life.

“He didn’t have the support, he didn’t have the ability to look at authorities as someone who could help him,” Mr. Gill said. “This wasn’t done in his family.”

Ms. Taylor referred to Mr. White’s choice to become involved in the drug dealing trade as a decision that ultimately led to the serious charges against him. Also, she pointed to a medical profession witness who supposedly determined “nothing in childhood excuses adult behavior.”

The defense claimed that Mr. White was holding a 9mm handgun that accidentally discharged in the bedroom and went through a dresser and wall, and the shooter used a .40-caliber weapon that caused Mr. Harmon’s death.

“You have two shooters,” Mr. Gill said.

Speaking to the jury, Mr. Gill urged members to apply the law fairly to Mr. White even though they might not agree morally with the alleged drug-related activity involved.

Alexander Funk served as co-defense counsel with Mr. Gill, with Deputy Attorney General Jason Cohee prosecuting the case with Ms. Taylor. Judge Jeffrey Clark oversaw proceedings for the trial that began last week.

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