The court heard testimony from the two eyewitnesses who were in the vehicle the day 27-year-old Janeal Jerome Thompson of Bryans Road is accused of having shot and killed 22-year-old Ronaj Henderson as he slept in the front seat in October 2018.
Thompson’s trial began Monday in Charles County Circuit Court before Judge Hayward James “Jay” West. Thompson’s former girlfriend, 26-year-old Sarah DeFilippo of Clinton, who is charged as an accessory to the murder, took the stand to testify Tuesday and remained on for much of the day: After the court recessed for lunch and returned, DeFilippo’s cross examination by defense attorney William Porter took nearly two hours before it was finished.
In response to direct questioning Tuesday morning by Assistant State’s Attorney Sarah Freeman, DeFilippo said she didn’t often drive Thompson’s white Chrysler 300, but when he asked her to the morning of the murder it wasn’t out of the ordinary. She confirmed who was there that morning: herself, Thompson, the now-deceased Henderson and 26-year-old Steven Tyler Danielson of Indian Head.
The previous night, DeFilippo said, she, Thompson and Henderson had gone to Waldorf to buy cocaine, which they all did together. Danielson joined them later in the night, she said, and was also doing drugs with them. At one point in the night, DeFilippo testified, Thompson had “smushed” her in the face during the course of an argument. That upset Henderson, she said, who’d chided his friend “not to put his hands on a woman.” While Henderson was sitting behind her in the car at one point, DeFilippo said, she’d rested her head against the window and he’d stroked it, which she said made her uncomfortable.
DeFilippo said she told Thompson about both instances, and that morning as Henderson slept in the front seat she drove them to a nearby gas station at Thompson’s behest. He’d asked her to make a turn that was off the normal route home, she said, but thought maybe they were just dropping Danielson or Henderson off.
As they drove, DeFilippo heard a gunshot, she said. She continued driving but looked back sideways, getting a look at both Henderson and Thompson. Freeman asked what she saw to the side, and DeFilippo, through tears, said she saw Henderson with a gunshot wound to the head. She then claimed she saw Thompson with the gun in his lap.
Freeman pointed out that she’d originally told the sheriff’s office’s Det. Feldman in her interview that she saw him with the gun in his hand and questioned the discrepancy between the two accounts. DeFilippo responded that the shooting “was almost a year ago,” and some details are now fuzzy in her memory.
Thompson covered Henderson’s body with a nearby jacket, DeFilippo said, and they went to pick up a man Thompson called “E,” identified as 50-year-old Eric Nolan Washington. Washington and Thompson hid Henderson’s body in Nanjemoy about 200 feet into the woods, DeFilippo said.
In the following days, DeFilippo said she was afraid of Thompson, who she claimed said “if I was done with him, then he’s done with me, and I knew what that meant.”
“I’d just seen him murder somebody,” DeFilippo said.
Porter’s two-hour questioning of DeFilippo was at points heated. He brought up DeFilippo’s agreement with the state to testify against the other three co-defendants. He also leaned heavily into DeFilippo’s discomfort with Henderson, questioning whether he’d been asking her for sex and whether she was uncomfortable with the hard drugs they were using in addition to the cocaine.
“You shot Psycho, didn’t you?,” Porter posed at one point, referring to the deceased by his nickname. DeFilippo maintained her innocence as Porter said she was the only person there that night who was “uncomfortable” with him.
Porter also questioned the week that transpired between the shooting and their eventual arrests, noting that at one point Thompson had been in police custody in Prince George’s County that week after he was found asleep with a gun in his lap at an Accokeek gas station. Porter asked why she did not tell the Prince George’s County police what had happened then or use that time to call Charles County officers. Even days after the crime, DeFilippo replied, she was still “in shock” and not thinking clearly but acting in fear.
On the stand Wednesday morning in response to Porter’s cross examination, Danielson, who said he and Henderson had only met that night, told the attorney he “didn’t think positively” of Henderson. He and Thompson had the sort of rapport where they constantly joked with each other, Danielson said, but Henderson took it too far and he didn’t care for his “smart remarks.” However, Danielson said, “I don’t like a lot of people. There’s a lot of people I don’t think very fondly of.”
Because of his drug use that night Danielson said his memory was “kind of fuzzy” regarding details like specific remarks. Porter questioned whether Danielson was intoxicated at the time of the shooting.
“When the gunshot went off it sobered me up,” Danielson replied.
Danielson maintained he had no motive to kill Henderson although he acknowledged he was afraid of being painted as having more involvement than he actually did. He’d told the truth when he spoke to police, Danielson said, although the video played in court that afternoon showed him taking coaxing to confess.
“They knew I had something to do with it so I might as well,” Danielson said.
Thompson’s trial was ongoing at press time.