Killer identified by a blink, gets 70 years

The case marked the first time in Maryland where non-verbal communication led to a conviction.

UPPER MARLBORO, MD (WUSA9) - A man identified as a killer by the blink of an eye was sentenced to spend 70 years behind bars on Thursday.

The Prince George’s County case marked the first time in Maryland and only the fourth time nationwide where nonverbal identification was used at trial, according to the Prince George's State's Attorney. 

Melvin Pate blinked twice from his hospital bed in 2010. It is the only way he could identify his shooter. The attack left him paralyzed below the neck and unable to move. He died in 2012.

“He couldn’t do anything; he couldn’t do nothing,” said the victim’s mother, Felicia Pate. “I had to do everything for him – care for him every two hours, feed him, bathe him.”

She attended her son’s killer – Jermaine Hailes – sentencing.

“I’m ok with the 70 years because at least [Hailes] got time to think about it,” Pate said. “And I don’t have to worry about nobody else’s family going through what I went through.”

Hailes’ legal team argued that Pate’s blink was unreliable. And that using the video at trial would deny their client’s constitutional right to confront his accuser.

Ultimately, a Maryland appeals court found that the video was admissible because it was what the law calls a dying declaration, an inherently trustworthy statement

Prosecutors have previously said that the finding helped the state get a conviction.

“Our heart goes out to the Pate family,” the defendant’s mother said.  “But we do know that there is hope for my son.”

The defendant can appeal his case. 


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