A Fort Washington man sentenced to 50 years in prison for murdering a 19-year-old Germantown man was granted a new trial after a Maryland appeals court ruled the judge improperly excluded some questions when selecting a jury.
In the early morning hours of April 29, 2017, then-25-year-old Furl John Williams and another man robbed two women in the parking lot of a townhome community in Germantown, according to court records.
Shortly after, Williams and the other man, Eric Lee, entered a nearby home on Kitchen House Way. Authorities say Williams allegedly fired several shots, injuring several people and killing 19-year-old Amaru Johnson.
Three other people were shot and injured, too — two in the leg and one in the head.
Later in the day, while responding to a call about an illegally parked car about a half-mile away from the shooting, police discovered the vehicle had been stolen 12 days earlier during an armed carjacking in Prince George’s County, according to court documents.
Some property stolen from victims in the April 29 shooting was recovered from the vehicle, and fingerprints allegedly belonging to Williams were found on the car.
After an eight-day trial, Williams was convicted of several charges, including second-degree murder for the death of Johnson, home invasion, armed robbery, attempted armed robbery, first-degree assault and possession of a firearm by a person convicted of a disqualifying felony.
But in an appeal to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, Williams’ attorneys argued that Montgomery County Circuit Judge Gary Bair improperly refused to ask potential jurors a set of questions the defense had requested. The questions focused on the possible jurors’ ability to be impartial and understanding of the concept that Williams is presumed innocent until proven otherwise.
Specifically, the questions asked whether the potential jurors would “hold it against him” if Williams did not testify at trial, or if they would weigh his testimony differently than others if he did; if they did not believe the state “proved the case beyond a reasonable doubt” whether they would have “difficulty rendering a not guilty verdict; and whether they felt the defendant should be required to prove his innocence.
Williams’ attorneys at the time officially objected to the judge’s refusal to ask the questions.
The appeals court ruled last month that Bair — who has since retired — had the discretion to determine what questions are asked of potential jurors, but by denying to ask relevant questions, he abused his authority.
The appeals court vacated Williams’ conviction and remanded the case back to circuit court for a new trial, which had not yet been scheduled as of Tuesday.
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at email@example.com