‘Unprecedented’ murder trial of Prince George’s Co. police officer begins

The shooting happened nearly four years ago, before most people had heard of COVID-19 — as one lawyer pointed out — and, now, after several delays and hiccups, an unprecedented murder trial has begun in Prince George’s County.

The defendant in the case is a police officer — Cpl. Michael Owen — and he’s the first officer the county has ever charged with murder in the line of duty. During opening statements of his trial, both sides agreed there were some circumstances about the case that were not in dispute.

Both sides agreed that 43-year-old William Green, a Southeast D.C. man, was shot six times while sitting in the front seat of Owen’s police cruiser. They agreed that Green had crashed into several vehicles after driving under the influence of drugs (PCP) and alcohol, necessitating the call to police and that Green was unconscious after striking a tree.

But during his opening statement, Assistant State’s Attorney Joel Patterson said from the time he complied with police and allowed himself to be handcuffed to the time of his death, Green posed no threat to police. Patterson told the jury over and over again that “he was not a threat,” and that no force, much less deadly force, was justified that night.

Thomas Mooney, a lawyer representing Owen, pointed out that only Owen and Green were in the vehicle when the officer fired the shots. He also said police released conflicting information about what happened in the hours after the shooting. That includes a statement from former Police Chief Hank Stawinski who, Mooney said, denied Green had been on PCP at the time of the shooting. But he said the one person investigators never spoke to — even to this day — was Owen.

Mooney pointed out that after shooting — seven shots were fired in less than 1.5 seconds, he claimed — the first thing Owen did was radio for help, saying “send everyone,” an act Mooney described as “telling on himself,” before getting out his medical kit and trying to render first aid.

In the 30 minutes or so before Green was killed, Mooney said the man had gone from unconscious to passive to verbal to combative. Mooney said the defense will show that multiple pieces of equipment inside the squad car, including Owen’s police radio, were damaged that night, which was indicative of a violent struggle in the vehicle.

The 16-member jury panel was selected from a pool of 110 people Monday, but the very first arguments made Tuesday had to do with news reports stemming from a different allegation of excessive force. Mooney pushed the judge to either dismiss the case, relocate the trial to another jurisdiction, or sequester the jury after news reports cited a lawsuit involving “patterns and practices” of Prince George’s County Police.

Mooney argued the new lawsuit was announced in order to shine a light on the department and numerous allegations that it uses improper force, and expressed concern it would taint the jury pool. But the jurors took questions one by one with the judge and lawyers from both sides, and no one was dismissed.

Months after Green was killed, his family reached a $20 million settlement with Prince George’s County, the largest settlement the county has ever paid out.

“It is our belief that when we are at fault, we take responsibility,” said County Executive Angela Alsobrooks at the time the settlement was announced.

But Mooney said the narrative told by the county in the years since then “is not true, not informed,” and is false.

“They never got it right,” said Mooney. “They never got this right.”

The trial is expected to last about two weeks.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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