Prosecutors, defense attorneys spar ahead of Patterson trial

Prosecutors, defense attorneys spar ahead of Patterson trial
The Alexandria Courthouse. (File Photo)

By Erich Wagner

Prosecutors and defense attorneys walked away from a Friday hearing with procedural victories ahead of next month’s trial of Craig Patterson, an Arlington County sheriff’s deputy charged with murdering Julian Dawkins.

Dawkins, 22, was shot and killed in the early morning hours of May 22 after a confrontation with Patterson, who was off duty at the time. Witnesses testified seeing the two men arguing on the 100 block of Lynhaven Drive hours before the fatal incident.

Patterson left the scene but allegedly returned with his handgun, shot Dawkins and then called 911. The defense team has argued that the T.C. Williams graduate threatened Patterson with a knife, but investigators said the weapon was found closed in Dawkins’ pocket.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Randy Sengel successfully sought to suppress evidence that the defense team hoped to use in arguing that Dawkins was a drug dealer who Patterson was forced to shoot in self-defense while trying to arrest him. Among the evidence no longer admissible are Dawkins’ past interactions with police for the possession or use of marijuana, an old photo extracted from social media, and a torn cigar or blunt wrapper and around $1,000 found on him after the shooting.

Defense attorney Joseph King laid out the case he wanted to make to a jury.

“There’s no reason for him to have that money except if it was obtained through illicit means,” King said. “[You] can’t exclude the theory that [Dawkins’] conduct that night was narcotics-involved and that [Patterson] saying he was a police officer precipitated a knife being pulled [before the shooting].”

But Circuit Judge William Hamblen said the evidence does not support King’s conclusion. If the defense team finds new and material evidence supporting their claim, Hamblen might reconsider the decision.

“The … inference that Dawkins was trafficking in drugs does not naturally flow from that [evidence],” Hamblen said. “Just because at times he used marijuana — and the cash is discounted [by the fact] he was gainfully employed — it proves nothing.”

The defense team, though, won on another matter: how attorneys and witnesses will refer to Dawkins during the trial. Defense attorney Megan Thomas argued that the jury should not hear Dawkins referred to as “the victim,” because it’s prejudicial against their argument that Patterson shot him in self-defense.

“Our theory is that he did nothing wrong, that it was a justified shooting,” Thomas said. “We all know the legal definition of the word. But it has a meaning, a very specific meaning in a broader sense.”

Hamblen agreed. But the judge said that in the unlikely case a non-expert witness lets the word slip, he would avoid the extraordinary step of having their testimony stricken from the record.

“You shall use ‘the alleged victim,’ ‘Mr. Dawkins’ or ‘the decedent,’” Hamblen said. “It’s highly unlikely that a lay witness would refer to him as the victim, since they’re more likely to call him Julian or Mr. Dawkins, but if it happens, I’ll deal with it in as low-key of a way as possible.”

The defense team also requested financial help for interviewing expert witnesses regarding the nature of police procedure and how officers react psychologically after shooting someone. Their testimony would have been used to argue against malicious intent on Patterson’s part when he shot Dawkins.

But Hamblen denied that request.

“He’s not on trial for poor police procedure, he’s on trial for homicide,” he said. “These have no bearing on whether the defendant was cleared to use deadly force.”