Credit: Photo from Elimar DePaula's Instagram page

This story was updated at 10:15 a.m. on Nov. 1, 2021, to include a response from the Maryland Judiciary

A woman left paralyzed after being shot by the nephew of an NBA star two years ago said she is continuing to recover even though her life has been turned upside down.

D’Andre Wall — whose uncle, John Wall, used to play for the Washington Wizards — shot at a driver who Montgomery County police say cut him off in Germantown on Aug. 8, 2019, in a “road-rage” incident.

The driver’s girlfriend at the time, Elimar DePaula, was struck in the back by one of the shots and was paralyzed, police said.

D’Andre Wall, 30, of Germantown, was found guilty by a jury on Thursday of attempted murder and use of a handgun in a violent crime.

DePaula, now 21 and living in Florida, told reporters Thursday evening that life has dramatically changed since the shooting — she was “robbed” of the best years of her life.

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“My mom’s life revolves around taking me places, like my physical therapy, which I go to every single day. The way I change my clothes, the way I take showers, the way I use the bathroom. Everything has changed for me,” she said.

DePaula, who uses a wheelchair, said she testified in court on Tuesday. She was brought into the courtroom before jurors arrived and left after they exited, according to the State’s Attorney’s Office. The jurors did not see her in the wheelchair during her testimony.

DePaula hoped to watch the trial in the courtroom on Wednesday, when her ex-boyfriend was testifying. But she said an attorney told her that Montgomery County Circuit Judge Sharon Burrell would not allow her to be in the room, denying the state’s request.

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“The judge didn’t allow me to be there apparently because I use a wheelchair. The attorneys, they tried to argue that, but she still didn’t allow it,” she said.

“It kind of just caught me off guard because I wasn’t expecting them to deny me something that should be my right. So I brushed it off, but it did bother me.”

DePaula said initially she thought Burrell was barring her from the courtroom due to protocol, but an attorney told her on Thursday that it was because she was in a wheelchair.

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“I feel like they discriminated against me just because I’m in a wheelchair…,” she said.

DePaula watched the trial on Zoom instead from the State’s Attorney’s Office, but said the experience wasn’t the same because the camera doesn’t show the entire room, or the jury.

Burrell could not be reached for comment Wednesday or Thursday. A clerk told Bethesda Beat on Thursday that she would pass along an inquiry to the judge.

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Bradley Tanner, a spokesman for the Maryland Judiciary, wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat Nov. 1 that “it would be inappropriate for the judiciary to comment on a judge’s decision as it pertains to a case.”

Representatives from the Maryland Judiciary, which oversees the court system in the state, could not be reached for comment Wednesday or Thursday.

Steven Kupferberg, a defense attorney in the case, wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat Thursday evening that a review of the record shows “absolutely no discrimination” from Burrell. Maryland allows judges to use discretion during criminal trials, he noted.

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“A fair trial requires fair-minded judges. They are hard to find! Judge Burrell tried hard to call ‘balls and strikes,’” he wrote.

State’s Attorney John McCarthy said on Wednesday that it’s not unusual for witnesses with catastrophic injuries to be in the courtroom and called Burrell’s decision “outrageous.”

“You call somebody and they walk them from the back door, and it takes 10 minutes to walk them from the back door to the stand. Why are they in that condition? It’s because of why we’re here,” he said.

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McCarthy said victims should still have the right to stay in the courtroom after their testimony is over.

“You don’t get to sit in a trial, listen to what everybody else says — there are rules against witnesses — and then you come in, and give your testimony, not colored by what everybody else has said ahead of you, well, that’s fine,” McCarthy said. “So, if you want, you can make them wait outside. But after they’re done and they’re excused and they would like to stay for the trial, I think a victim has a right to be present.”

Victim wants closure

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DePaula said D’Andre Wall didn’t say anything to her during the trial, and she wants an apology. She told reporters that she forgives Wall, but wants justice and the ability to move on.

She also had a broader message.

“It’s really important to control our emotions, because you can really affect somebody’s life. Even though it may not be your intention, you can really hurt somebody or kill somebody,” she said.

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When DePaula was shot, doctors initially told her she would never walk again and that her spinal cord was severed. Since then, she’s progressed to walking with leg braces, and now ankle braces. She also uses a walker.

“It’s not perfect. It takes a lot of work and strength, but it’s a lot more than what I used to be able to do,” she said.

Before the shooting, DePaula was in business school, but was forced to drop out due to her injuries. She said the legal proceedings in the case have dragged on because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but she hopes to eventually find closure.

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“I would say it’s made me stronger, but I wouldn’t wish it on anybody,” she said.

Bethesda Beat Editor Anne Tallent contributed to this story

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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