Nick Madigan's latest installment on the Harris trial (for full trial coverage and more stories on the Harris shooting):
A jazz club owner who was with Kenneth N. Harris moments before the former Baltimore City Council member was shot to death said in court today that a gunman shouting profanities and threats approached them outside the club and that Harris immediately left the club owner’s side and headed for his car.
Keith A. Covington, who has run the New Haven Lounge in Northeast Baltimore since 1987 and became friendly with Harris about a decade ago, was the fourth witness to testify in the trial of three men accused of Harris’ murder on Sept. 20, 2008.
Covington told the jury that Harris had stopped by the club at about 1 a.m., after it had closed, to borrow a corkscrew for a bottle of wine and to use the restroom. Covington let Harris into the bar and opened the bottle for him. Then, he said, Harris told him he had a woman in his car he wanted Covington to meet and the two stepped outside.
At that moment, a gunman appeared from behind a column, his weapon pointed “directly at my forehead,” Covington said.
“ ‘You know what this is,’ ” the man with the gun shouted, according to the witness. “ ‘Get the **** back in the building before I kill you.’ ”
Harris, standing on Covington’s left, “broke off to get back to his car” as two other men approached. “One is running toward me,” Covington said, “and the other is running toward Ken.”
As he reached the door of the club, a gun pointed at the back of his head, “I hear a shot,” said Covington, who did not see anyone being hit. “I’m frightened for my life at this point like at no other time… I’m realizing this is no joke. This is nothing to be played with. I can only pay attention to the gunman’s demands. I can only feel that if my employees panic and run, they may be shot as well.”
Covington went on to describe the robbery inside the club, where six employees had been holding a staff meeting. Some were robbed, and about $2,000, the night’s proceeds, were taken from a safe that Covington was forced to open, he said.
As the three men ran out the building’s rear door, Covington grabbed a gun he kept in a drawer and fired three shots, prompting another expletive from one of the robbers.
Covington said he did not find out that Harris had been shot and killed until later, after police had been summoned. The former councilman was found in his car a short distance away. His companion, Monica Foreman-Robinson, testified on Monday, the trial’s first day.