CON­VICTED IN CY­CLIST AT­TACK:

Pair were part of crowd that set upon vic­tim in Jan­uary

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Justin Fen­ton jfen­ton@balt­sun.com

Two teens charged as adults in the fa­tal at­tack on a cy­clist in North Bal­ti­more were con­victed by a judge Mon­day of rob­bery and first-de­gree as­sault but ac­quit­ted of mur­der charges.

Two teens charged as adults in the fa­tal at­tack on a cy­clist in North Bal­ti­more were con­victed by a judge Mon­day of rob­bery and first-de­gree as­sault but ac­quit­ted of mur­der charges.

Bal­ti­more Cir­cuit Judge Stephen J. Sfekas, who presided over the bench trial, said it was “clear” that Ant­wan Eldridge, 18, and Daquan Mid­dle­ton, 17, did not par­tic­i­pate in a pre­med­i­tated mur­der of 29-year-old Robert Ponsi.

A co-de­fen­dant — a teenager who, by a mat­ter of months, was young enough to have his case waived to ju­ve­nile court — was alone re­spon­si­ble for Ponsi’s killing, the judge said.

“It’s clear [the ju­ve­nile de­fen­dant] was in a homi­ci­dal state of mind, and no one was ex­pect­ing a knife was present or that a mur­der would take place,” Sfekas said.

In ju­ve­nile court, where the fo­cus is on re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion rather than pun­ish­ment, youths held re­spon­si­ble for of­fenses are re­leased by their 21st birth­day. The Bal­ti­more Sun does not iden­tify sus­pects whose cases are han­dled in ju­ve­nile court, and those pro­ceed­ings are sealed.

Eldridge and Mid­dle­ton — con­victed of lesser of­fenses but tried as adults — could each face a max­i­mum of more than 40 years in prison. Sen­tenc­ing was set for Feb. 6.

Ponsi was riding his bi­cy­cle home from his job at a restau­rant in Har­bor East in Jan­uary when a group of five to seven teens tried to scare him, Sfekas said the ev­i­dence pre­sented at trial showed. He said Ponsi felt threat­ened and got off his bike, pick­ing it up and wav­ing it at the teens to ward them off.

The group be­gan at­tack­ing Ponsi, and he was stabbed 11 times and slashed another six times.

Sfekas called the crime “in­ex­pli­ca­ble and cruel.”

The ju­ve­nile sus­pect told po­lice he was car­ry­ing the knife and had stabbed Ponsi.

Mid­dle­ton and Eldridge made off with Ponsi’s bike, and were caught af­ter call­ing the po­lice them­selves be­cause Mid­dle­ton had been stabbed in the calf. Af­ter ini­tially telling po­lice they had been vic­tims of an at­tack, Eldridge ad­mit­ted to kick­ing Ponsi at least twice, while Mid­dle­ton said he had “stomped” him, Sfekas said.

Sfekas said the state had not made a case that the pair had com­mit­ted first- or sec­ond-de­gree mur­der.

But he said their cul­pa­bil­ity on charges of first-de­gree felony mur­der was more com­pli­cated. That charge in­volves a death that oc­curs dur­ing the course of com­mit­ting a felony.

Cit­ing case law, Sfekas said felony mur­der re­quired a “com­mon de­sign” among the par­tic­i­pants, and he said it couldn’t be con­cluded that those at­tack­ing Ponsi had such a shared goal.

He said some of the peo­ple in­volved wanted to ver­bally abuse Ponsi and oth­ers may have in­tended to com­mit a rob­bery, but the youngest seemed in­tent on us­ing the knife. Sfekas also said tak­ing Ponsi’s bike was “post facto” or af­ter the fact.

The ju­ve­nile co-de­fen­dant, who was 15 years, 5 months old at the time of the at­tack, was orig­i­nally charged as an adult with first-de­gree mur­der, but in Septem­ber suc­cess­fully pe­ti­tioned to have his case sent into the ju­ve­nile sys­tem.

Pros­e­cu­tors op­posed send­ing the case to ju­ve­nile court. While the de­fense said the de­fen­dant, a for­mer City Col­lege stu­dent who ex­celled on de­bate teams, had been bul­lied and got in­volved with the wrong crowd, pros­e­cu­tors said he knew right from wrong and didn’t have men­tal prob­lems that re­quired treat­ment.

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