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Mother of Slain Hopkins Researcher Testifies

Gwen Pitcairn was on phone with son as he was stabbed to death in Charles Village.

Gwen Pitcairn was the last person to talk to her son before he died last July while walking to his Charles Village home.

Tuesday, she was the first person to testify against John Wagner, the man accused of killing her son Stephen Pitcairn, a Johns Hopkins University researcher.

Gwen Pitcairn, clutching a rosary necklace tightly, sat on the stand in Baltimore City Circuit Court and described the final minutes of her 23-year-old son’s life. She was on the phone with Stephen Pitcairn while he walked home from Penn Station to the 3000 block of St. Paul Street.

“I always feel so safe when you’re on the phone with me,” Gwen Pitcairn said her son told her.

She also said she was talking to her son when she heard a loud gasp, then him telling someone “Hey, hey I don’t have any money” and to just take his wallet.

Gwen Pitcairn told jurors that she heard another man with “hatred” in his voice tell her son to “shut up” twice before the voices on the other end stopped.

“I started screaming for Stephen and [screaming] ‘please don’t hurt him, please don’t hurt him,” Gwen Pitcairn said.

She became emotional a couple of times on the stand, especially when prosecutor Josh Felsen handed her Stephen Pitcairn's iPhone and wallet, and asked her if the items had belonged to her son. She said that she recognized the wallet because she'd given it to Stephen Pitcairn as a Christmas gift. 

Felsen began to present the prosecution’s case against the 38-year-old Wagner. The prosecution alleges that Wagner and Lavela Merritt, a woman identified as Wagner's girlfriend, robbed Stephen Pitcairn and that Wagner stabbed him in the chest.   

Felsen called four witnesses to testify Tuesday, including Reggie Higgins who lives in the 2600 block of St. Paul Street. Higgins witnessed the altercation leading to Stephen Pitcairn’s death from the second story window of his home.

Higgins rushed to aid Pitcairn, and held him in his arms and told him everything was going to be OK as he lay dying on the sidewalk. He said that Stepehen Pitcairn was trying to say something but that he told him not to talk. But he said Stephen Pitcairn was able to say one word, “mom.”

Wagner’s defense Attorney Gregory Fischer argued during opening statements Tuesday that his client is not guilty of killing Stephen Pitcairn. He said the real culprit is a Kevin Cosby, one of Wagner’s five roommates.

Fischer pointed out that it was Cosby who used Stephen Pitcairn’s credit cards at local gas stations, and showed the police where the cards were hidden behind their address at 2607 Maryland Ave.

“Unfortunately the police conducted their investigation with tunnel vision,” Fischer said.

He also told the jury that the state’s case hinged on the word of Lavela Merritt who received a plea deal in exchange for her testimony against Wagner.

“The state’s case is based on the falsehoods and speculation of crackheads,” Fischer said.

The trial is scheduled to resume at 9:30 Wednesday morning. 

ralahinn1 August 10, 2011 at 12:43 AM
I had Jury duty on the 26 of July, I am so glad I served it then, and wasn't called up for this. I remember reading about the case and where the killing happened is walking distance from where I live. I feel sorry for Mr. Pitcairn's family and I hope that those involved get the full punishment for this.

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