The trial of a teen a Baltimore teen described after his 2018 arrest as the youngest homicide suspect of the year, and who was accused of killing the oldest victim at the time, began this week.
Roughly four years have gone by since officers discovered 83-year-old Dorothy Mae Neal badly injured in her apartment in West Baltimore’s Bridgeview-Greenlawn neighborhood. She died at a hospital, police said at the time, and they learned she had been sexually assaulted and beaten to death.
Physical evidence at the scene allegedly led investigators to a boy who’d just turned 14, Tyrone Harvin, according to police.
The state had put on its preliminary case by Friday afternoon. Prosecutors called several witnesses, including police officers and detectives, as well as fingerprint and DNA analysts with the Baltimore Police Department.
The defense is expected to put on its case Monday. Harvin’s public defenders said in court Friday they expected to call a psychologist, a civilian witness who they say failed to identify Harvin and an expert who’s expected to challenge the credibility of the police DNA analysis. Because prosecutors bear the burden of proof, the state is allowed to call witnesses to rebut the defense’s case.
Assistant State’s Attorney Elizabeth Stock previewed the evidence Thursday and explained what she expected it to show jurors, describing how Neal was found “naked” and “barely breathing.”
A concerned neighbor called Baltimore Police about Neal on Aug. 29, 2018. Officer Alesha Salyers, who was let into the apartment by a maintenance worker, found Neal behind the front door and unresponsive.
Neal had dried blood on her face and was rushed to the hospital where she remained alive for 16 hours, Stock told jurors in her brief opening statements. Stock said doctors determined Neal suffered 48 injuries to her head and neck, and more injuries to other parts of her body.
The medical examiner’s office determined that Neal died of blunt-force trauma and that she’d been sexually assaulted.
Stock did not provide a motive Thursday, but police previously said that they suspected Harvin had been helping Neal with a chore around her home; they uncovered no signs of forced entry in the basement apartment.
Crime scene photos presented during testimony showed that her garden apartment appeared to be in disarray. Among items recovered by crime scene technicians were used condoms, which had Harvin’s fingerprints and DNA, Stock said.
Harvin’s DNA also was recovered from a broken lamp in the apartment, and a small metal piece of the lamp was recovered from Neal’s lip.
But Harvin’s public defender, Deborah St. Jean, said in openings Thursday that the state’s evidence was flawed and could not positively identify her client as the suspect.
St. Jean said her client lived nearby with his mother and several brothers in a two-bedroom apartment, where many condom wrappers were found inside a shared closet during a search of the home.
“No one can tell you when that fingerprint was left,” she told jurors of the condom wrappers recovered from Neal’s apartment.
St. Jean told jurors that later in the trial they would learn from a defense expert that the Baltimore Police crime lab evidence analysis was flawed and that the DNA evidence in the case relied on “probabilistic genotypes,” which can be less reliable. St. Jean said experts would testify to concerns in the department’s lab, including the lack of training for analysts and machines not properly calibrated.
St. Jean also said a neighbor witnessed an older, stocky man knocking on Neal’s door before Neal was found, raising the possibility of an alternative suspect. St. Jean said both locks on Neal’s front door remained set.
She asked jurors to think about the facts of the case amid the “very gruesome” testimony and photographs.
Harvin appeared in court in a dark blue sweater and long khaki pants. He remained quiet during openings, and did not appear to have any family in the courtroom.
He was arrested Sept. 7, 2018. In accordance with the law then, he was charged as an adult with first-degree murder and wielding a deadly weapon, along with rape and related other sex offenses.
Online court records do not offer a comprehensive explanation of what has transpired in his case to date. The records do show that a request by his defense attorneys for his case to be waived to juvenile court was denied and that his trial has been postponed numerous times.
While he has been incarcerated pending trial, at least three other 14-year-old boys have been charged with premeditated murder in Baltimore. Two of the other boys cases are pending trial, while the status of the third teen’s case was not clear.
Harvin was one of nine juveniles charged with murder in 2018. There already have been nine juveniles charged with murder this year, as well as 12 others charged in non-fatal shootings, according to police.
By the time of his arrest in this case, Harvin had already had contact with the state’s juvenile justice system.
A classmate of Harvin’s at the Connexions Community Leadership Academy in West Baltimore accused Harvin of robbing and assaulting him.
Though he had not yet turned 14, Harvin was mistakenly charged as an adult with armed robbery. The adult charges were later dropped, and it’s not known whether he faced charges in juvenile court.
Harvin’s family said in 2018 he was on the right track and was wrongfully accused. They said they didn’t believe he was responsible for Neal’s death.
Neal was remembered as a kind and generous woman who regularly attended church on Frederick Avenue.
“There’s some systemic failure in the 14-year-old’s life to allow us to be here talking about him being accused of murder and rape,” said the Baltimore police spokesman at the time, T.J. Smith. “It’s just a very tragic situation all the way around.”