Closing argument focuses on fear

Staff WriterMarch 29, 2008 

— A defense attorney argued Friday afternoon that Calvin Nicholson was more scared little boy than cold-blooded killer when he squeezed off a round the night Todd Douglas was gunned down nearly three years ago.

Attorney Scott Holmes argued that Nicholson, 17 at the time of Douglas' death in November 2005, is mentally handicapped and fired a gun out of fear during the drive-by shooting.

Nicholson later told police the gun he fired was a .380; Douglas was killed by a single .22-caliber bullet to the chest, creating one of several discrepancies that arose during Nicholson's trial this week that Holmes pointed to in his closing argument Friday.

It isn't clear who actually fired the shot that killed Douglas, and the murder weapon was never recovered, Holmes pointed out. Further, it isn't clear from witness testimony whether Nicholson was seated on the rear driver's side of the car that drove down Bacon Street late the night of the killing, or whether he sat on the rear passenger side.

And Holmes stressed heavily -- buttressed by testimony from two psychiatrists the day before -- that Nicholson is mentally handicapped and unable to commit murder with premeditation and deliberation, as prosecutor Tracey Cline contends.

"A person with Calvin's intellectual deficit walks through the world like it's a bad joke, and he doesn't get it," Holmes said. "There are things being said and decisions being made that are out of his control."

Nicholson was among a group of young men that night who spent much of the day together. They went to the mall, ate at a fast-food restaurant, and late that night drove up Bacon Street, saw Douglas and a friend of his, turned their car around, and fired at them.

Durham detective Jack Cates testified that the shooting was a gang initiation and that Nicholson was "puttin' in work" -- essentially committing a crime to earn his stripes. Cline, the prosecutor, chopped away Friday at Holmes' contention that Nicholson was just a meek follower thrust into an untenable position.

"Calvin was afraid?" she thundered at the outset of her closing statement. "These were his friends. These were the people he hung around with. These were the people he went to the mall with."

Cline pursued the first-degree murder charge using the "acting in concert" theory, under which a person doesn't have to fire the lethal bullet if he was part of a group acting as one. Another man, Justin Hatch, who was 19 when arrested in November 2005, is charged in the killing as well.

"It doesn't matter if he did the shooting or somebody else," Cline said. "He acted in concert with someone else ... and it's not right."

The jury began deliberating Friday afternoon and will resume Monday.

eric.ferreri@newsobserver.com or (919) 956-2415

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