Cellphone helps lead to murder conviction

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ROCKVILLE – A man and woman each face up to 30 years in prison after the Circuit Court jury found them both guilty of second-degree murder of the woman’s husband, State’s Attorney spokesperson Ramon Korionoff said Friday.

The jury spent more than 11 hours over two days discussing the case, Korionoff said. The pair’s sentencing date is July 25.

Takoma Park Police arrested Larlane Pannell-Brown, age 70, and Hussain Ali Zadeh, 50, in June 2015 for the murder of Cecil Brown, Panell-Brown’s husband, according to court documents. The arrests followed a months-long investigation after police found Brown dead in the woman’s backyard in August 2014.

State’s attorney John McCarthy said at a news conference Monday that FBI findings pertaining to data indicating the location of Zadeh’s cellphone at the time of the homicide was vital to the state winning at a three-week murder trial.

McCarthy said FBI analysis of cellphone data was not only important to the win but was also a significant obstacle leading up to the trial.

“I think the biggest challenge (was) whether (they) interpreted it as scientific,” and as having “reliability,” McCarthy said.

Assistant State’s Attorney Jessica Hall said FBI Special Agent Richard Fennern, of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Cellular Analysis Survey Team, determined Zadeh’s cellphone connected to specific cell towers, by which he could determine where Zadeh was at the time of the murder.

“The information was that the defendant Zadeh’s cellphone data was in the area of 805 Colby Ave. for several hours leading up to and during the time of the murder,” Hall said. “And that was the information the FBI was able to analyze in this case.”

Defender Matthew Blumenstein, co-representing Zadeh, had filed a memorandum on behalf of both defendants asserting that the data the FBI special agent used was not commonly accepted in Maryland as evidence in criminal law and he requested it be withheld from the trial.

“The court should exclude these opinions, and all graphical depictions of them, because the underlying methodologies have not been accepted as generally reliable within the field of forensics,” Blumenstein said in a 2016 memorandum.

Hall said Monday that the court held a hearing specifically in regard to whether data indicating the location of Zadeh’s cellphone at the time of the murder could be used in the trial.

“The court conducted a hearing and the judge found that the information (cell phone data) was reliable to be presented to the jury in this case,” Hall said.

McCarthy said that given that the information was not commonly used for the purpose for which the state used it, the FBI was best-suited for the job.

“They’re the leading experts in the country,” McCarthy said. “The judge found (Fennern) was in fact qualified.”

McCarthy said he spoke to one of the jurors and, reflecting on his own experience, that he believed some jurors may have changed their vote from first-degree murder to second-degree murder to reach a verdict.

“We brought the charges we thought were appropriate, and the jury analyzed the facts and this is how they came back.” McCarthy said. “Look, this was a tough case. I mean to some extent, having done this for over 30 years, sometimes I think you realize that sometimes jurors compromise verdicts.”

Bernard Brown, Cecil Brown’s oldest son, said he was pleased with the work of the assistant state’s attorneys Hall and Marybeth Ayres at the trial.

“We couldn’t be happier with the way they presented the case,” Brown said. “That was regardless of what the verdict was.”

Cecil Brown’s first wife was Bernard’s mother, Bernard Brown said. He adopted and raised Bernard, along with the six children between himself and his wife.

The younger Brown described his father as “quiet; very much a manly kind of man.”

“He kept to himself,” he said.

However, “If he had something to say, he’d say it. He wouldn’t beat around the bush.”

Cecil Brown also was skilled with construction equipment, Bernard said. Cecil worked in construction, and his jobs involved asphalt.

“He taught himself pretty much how to drive every piece of machinery that was out there,” Brown said.

Cecil Brown later divorced Bernard Brown’s mother and married Larlane Pannell, Brown said.

McCarthy said Cecil Brown and Panell-Brown had been married for more than 50 years before Cecil Brown died.

Laura Kelsey Rhodes, co-representing Zadeh, said she plans to appeal his case once the co-defendants are sentenced in July.

“We’re glad the jury agreed that there was no evidence of a planned murder, but we will appeal the convictions for second-degree murder – we don’t think it was fair for Mr. Zadeh to be tried with a co-defendant.”



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