A murder trial featuring video of a paralyzed shooting victim blinking to identify his assailant ended this week with a conviction.

A Prince George’s County jury Wednesday afternoon found Jermaine Hailes, 25, guilty of first-degree felony murder in the 2010 slaying of Melvin Pate, 29.

Pate was left paralyzed during a drug robbery, but he blinked in response to being shown a photo of Hailes out of a photo lineup, identifying the man who shot him. Pate died before Hailes went to trial, but police had recorded the photo lineup.

Before the case went to trial, prosecutors and Hailes’s attorneys fought over whether the video of Pate’s blink identification could be used as evidence. Hailes’s 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 as Pate was told he only had only about 24 hours to live shortly before he identified Hailes in the photo lineup, but he wound up surviving as a quadriplegic for two years before dying 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 Hailes’s case is only the fourth time in U.S. history that a murder victim’s nonverbal identification has been used as evidence in at trial.

Hailes was also found guilty of second-degree murder, robbery, assault and other related charges, prosecutors said. He faces life in prison at a sentencing hearing set for Aug. 25.

Adam Lee Nemann
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Trial and Defense Attorney, Adjunct Professor of Law at Capital University, founder of Nemann Law Offices
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