A murder trial featuring video of a paralysed shooting victim blinking to identify his assailant ended this week in a conviction.
A Prince George's County, Maryland, jury found Jermaine Hailes, 25, guilty of first-degree murder in the 2010 slaying of Melvin Pate, 29.
Pate was left paralysed during a drug robbery, but he blinked in response to being shown a picture of Hailes in a photo line-up, identifying the man who shot him. Pate died before Hailes went to trial, but police had recorded the photo line-up.
Before the case went to trial, prosecutors and Hailes' lawyers fought over whether the video of Pate's blink identification could be used as evidence. Hailes' lawyers argued that the use of the video at trial would not allow their client to confront his accuser in court, a right outlined in the Sixth Amendment. Prosecutors said Pate's blink should be considered a "dying declaration," which is exempt from the confrontation clause.
The legal arguments in the case were further complicated because Pate was told he had only about 24 hours to live shortly before he identified Hailes in the photo line-up, but he lived as a quadriplegic for two years before his death in 2012.
After years of legal wrangling, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that Pate's blink was a dying declaration and allowed prosecutors to show the video to jurors.
Prosecutors believe that Hailes's case marks only the fourth time in US history and the first time in Maryland that a murder victim's non-verbal identification was used as evidence in a trial.
"This was a case that was very hard-fought," said Prince George's County State's Attorney Angela Alsobrooks. "Although justice was delayed, it was not denied."
Lawyers for Hailes did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Hailes was also found guilty of second-degree murder, robbery, assault and other charges, prosecutors said. He faces life in prison at a sentencing hearing set for August 25.