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Justice holds two in home-invasion shootout

The shootout was quick but furious, Jolene Edwards said.

123 Hancock Rd., Upper Gwynedd, the site of a home invasion and shootout in June. (File / Staff)
123 Hancock Rd., Upper Gwynedd, the site of a home invasion and shootout in June. (File / Staff)Read more

The shootout was quick but furious, Jolene Edwards said.

She huddled with her three daughters in an upstairs bathroom as her husband opened fire on intruders downstairs in their split-level home in a normally sedate Upper Gwynedd neighborhood. Edwards then followed her husband's voice down to the living room.

She found him propped against the kitchen wall, bullet wounds to his chest and both legs. Squirming and bleeding on the floor nearby was another man.

"I was petrified," she said.

Edwards recalled the incident Wednesday as she and her husband, Jermaine, testified at the preliminary hearing for two Maryland men accused in the June 9 ambush at their Hancock Road home. A third unidentified suspect got away and a fourth died in the firefight, which police and prosecutors have said stemmed from a robbery attempt by a "gang of thugs."

Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman ruled the killing justified, concluding that Edwards was legally defending his home.

The hearing before District Justice John S. Murray provided graphic detail on the attack, which police have said shows how violent crime has crept into the suburbs. Prosecutors called the investigation exemplary.

But the hearing left key questions in the case unresolved - and more glaring than ever.

Neither the prosecutors nor witnesses touched on why a carload of men from outside Washington, D.C., drove more than two hours north to target a suburban Montgomery County family on a Wednesday night in June.

Nor have they said why Jermaine Edwards, who was on probation for a drug conspiracy conviction, had a security alarm on his shed or a loaded 9mm Glock, the same one his wife slid to him as the armed intruders were forcing the couple and their girls into the house.

A probable-cause affidavit filed in the case quoted a confidential police informant as saying one of the suspects had gone to Pennsylvania expecting to reap $150,000 in a robbery. But neither the Edwards nor the attorneys touched on a motive during the hearing.

When Brendan Campbell, the attorney for defendant Niochie Lawson, tried to bring up Edwards' criminal past and taint his testimony, the prosecutor cut him off with an objection.

"Credibility's not relevant at a preliminary hearing," Assistant District Attorney Samantha Cauffman told the judge, who agreed.

Jermaine Edwards described himself as a "home remodeler" who also had rental properties. He said he conducted most of his business in cash and often had $1,000 or so in the house, but more in June because he was treasurer for his family reunion.

"The following month - that's when the reunion was," he said.

Edwards said he was driving his daughters, ages 9 and 11, from a relative's house in Philadelphia that night when his wife called to say their shed alarm was sounding. He told her to get his gun, which he kept under their bed, and wait for him to arrive.

When he did, the assailants, wearing gloves and hooded jackets, emerged from near the shed and hustled the family inside, according to the testimony. With the Glock hidden, Jolene Edwards said, she sidled next to her husband.

"My husband whispered in my ear: Where is it?" she testified, "and I tapped on my right (robe) pocket."

The attackers then ordered Jolene Edwards to take her daughters upstairs. She had barely reached the top of the staircase when the shooting started, she testified.

Downstairs, Jermaine Edward said he just kept shooting until his gun was empty, unloading 10 or 11 shots. Police later found bullet holes in the appliances, the ceiling and the roof.

"I didn't know I was hit in the chest until I saw the blood running down my arms," Edwards said. "I took a couple steps and my legs gave out on me."

The couple told police they didn't know their attackers. And the dead man had no identification on him.

But investigators soon learned that Lawson and his codefendant, Jakal Stone had sought treatment for gunshot wounds at Albert Einstein Medical Center about 30 minutes after the attack. There, doctors pulled a bullet from Lawson's leg that matched the brand in Edwards' gun.

Surveillance video from the hospital then helped investigators find the getaway car abandoned in Philadelphia, County Detective Mark Minzola testified. Inside they found identification for the dead man, Kieme Persons, 22, of Capitol Heights, Md.

Lawson and Stone, arrested three weeks later, face nearly two dozen charges, including conspiracy, robbery and kidnapping.

Campbell and Assistant Public Defender Jodi Lukens argued there was insufficient evidence for kidnapping or robbery, pointing out that nothing was stolen and the victims weren't taken from their home.

"Clearly there was an argument between the homeowner and the person who went through that door first," Campbell told the justice. "We'll find out how all that went down later."

Cauffman and Minzola both described the case as an "ongoing investigation" but ultimately persuaded Murray to hold all the charges over for trial. He scheduled an arraignment for Oct. 27.