Man found guilty of murder in Elkton shooting
Faces sentence of life in prison
— A man accused of gunning down a rival in an Elkton neighborhood in October 2015 is now facing a life sentence in prison after a jury found him guilty of a felony murder and a firearm charge.
Jurors deliberated approximately three hours on Thursday before finding the defendant, Nikel Shyheim Hicks, 22, of the 200
block of Mike Court in Elkton, guilty of first-degree murder, which includes the element of premeditation, and possession of a handgun at the conclusion of a four-day Cecil County Circuit Court trial.
The jury found Hicks “not guilty” of possession of a handgun in the commission of a felony or a crime, an acquittal that is inconsistent with the guilty verdict that it returned.
Sentencing is tentatively set for January.
Cecil County Circuit Court Administrative Judge Keith A. Baynes, who had presided over the trial, ordered Hicks to remain in the county jail without bond until sentencing.
Hicks fatally shot Gregory Sammons-Burris, 24, in the head and neck about 1:45 a.m. on Oct. 12, 2015, in a grassy patch between two rows of townhouses in the 100 block of Gooseneck Court in Elkton.
In her opening statement, Assistant State’s Attorney Patricia Fitzgerald cautioned jurors that investigators were unable to
find anyone who witnessed Hicks shoot SammonsBurris. Nor had a motive for the fatal shooting been established, she said.
But Fitzgerald, who prosecuted the case with Assistant State’s Attorney Amanda Bessicks, then told the jury that prosecutors possessed recorded telephone conversations between Hicks and several people in which he made arrangements to obtain ammunition within hours before the fatal shooting.
Prosecutors entered Hicks’ recorded phone conversations and accompanying transcripts of them into evidence during the trial.
In the telephone conversations recorded after the fatal shooting, Hicks made efforts to recruit people, including his mother, to retrieve the gun — a silver .380-caliber automatic handgun — that had been stashed in the ceiling joints of a laundry room inside a Mallard Court residence, which is part of an adjoining neighborhood and is a short walking distance from the murder scene.
Confidential sources had told investigators that Hicks had a “romantic relationship” with a woman who lived at the Mallard Court residence and that he sometimes stayed there.
Those recorded phone conversations are the product of an undercover Cecil County Drug Task Force investigation that had started months before the fatal shooting; and, as part of it, covert agents had obtained court-approved wiretaps on Hicks’ phone. After the murder, covert agents received court approval to continue the wiretaps.
Hicks stands accused in that CCDTF case of transporting at least 10,000 bags of heroin into Cecil County weekly during a six-month period, police officials recently told the Cecil Whig.
As a result of that protracted covert investigation, Hicks is charged with distribution of heroin and two related offenses, according to court records, which list his offense dates as Sept. 29, 2015, two weeks before the murder, and Oct. 11, a day before the homicide. Hicks’ drug trial is set for Feb. 7.
Det. Sgt. Kenneth Russell, supervisor of the drug task force, testified at trial regarding how and why the taped conversations came into existence. Russell also interpreted the street slang used in the recorded conversations played in the courtroom for the jurors.
In a phone conversation taped at 8:12 p.m. on Oct. 11, 2015, less than six hours before the murder, Hicks asks an unknown man in street slang, “You don’t got no johns (bullets) for a .380 (caliber handgun) do ya?” and the man on the other end replies, “Nah ... but I can probably get some.”
Then in a recorded phone conversation at 9:34 p.m., now less than five hours before the murder, Hicks tells a man, “Hey, bro, Ima (I’m going to) need to go to Walmart and buy some um ... some of them things again.”
Because Elkton Police Department investigators had recovered spent .380- caliber Federal brand bullet casings at the murder scene, detectives went to several nearby stores to check on recent sales of Federal bullets.
Video gleaned from a surveillance camera at the Walmart in the Northeast Plaza shows Hicks and the man, whom investigators recognized, together purchasing .380-caliber Federal bullets about 11:30 p.m. on Oct. 11, 2015, some two hours before the murder.
The man, who was not charged, later told detectives that he had picked up Hicks — who he knew only by the street name “Nike” — in the area of Gooseneck Court, drove him to Walmart to buy the ammunition for Hicks and then returned to Gooseneck Court to drop him off.
In that phone conversation recorded at 9:34 p.m., Hicks instructs the man to “come to Gooseneck” to pick him up.
After developing information that Hicks sometimes stayed at the nearby Mallard Court residence, EPD investigators raided that house about 6 p.m. on Oct. 12, 2015, some 16 hours after the murder, and confiscated a silver .380-caliber automatic handgun — which they found in the ceiling joints in the laundry room. The gun had several Federal brand bullets in the magazine and one in the chamber.
On Thursday, Jessie Campbell, a civilian firearm tool mark examiner with the Maryland State Police Forensic Science Division, testified that the .380-caliber handgun recovered at the Mallard Court residence was the same weapon that fired the Federal bullets that killed Sammons-Burris.
In recorded phone conversations that occurred while the raid was taking place, Hicks asks one man to retrieve the handgun, prompting him to ask, “How am I get it out, bro?” to which Hicks responds, “I don’t know man, wait til they (police) clear out. Bro, you gotta do it.”
Then the man asks Hicks where he would find the gun.
“It’s in the laundry room, like up top some junk,” Hicks says.
The man then asks, “You think they going to find it?”
“Probably ... That’s sticky if they find it, ain’t it?”
Hicks then asks the man to find someone to divert the attention of the raiding police officers.
“Tell somebody to make a distraction, bro, shoot in the air or do something, bro. We need some distractions, bro,” Hicks says. No one obliged, however. In a phone conversation recorded at 7:33 p.m. on Oct. 12, Hicks asks his mother to help him, starting their talk by asking, “Hey, mom, you go over there yet?” which she hadn’t.
“I wish you would listen to me. I really wish you would just start listening to me when I tell you to do something ... Do you remember where I said it was?”
Hicks then asks his mother, “Do you think they gonna find that?”
His mother answers, “I hope not. Start praying to Allah.”
Hicks, who was captured by U.S. Marshals Service agents in Philadelphia 16 days after the murder, declined to testify in his own defense on Thursday.
His defense attorney, Margaret Meade, of Baltimore, had maintained in opening and closing arguments that no one saw the fatal shooting and, therefore, prosecutors lacked direct eyewitness evidence against Hicks.
Meade also contended that, in those covertly recorded phone conversations, Hicks never said that he planned to shoot anyone and, after the fatal shooting, he never told anyone that he was the shooter.
An Elkton Police Department detective searches for evidence in the grassy patch between two rows of townhouses on Gooseneck Court, hours after the fatal Oct. 12, 2015 shooting there. On Thursday, a jury found the man charged in the case guilty of first-degree murder.