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Baltimore jury clears brothers in murder-for-hire trial

By Jason Tomassini

BALTIMORE (Reuters) - Two brothers were found not guilty on Wednesday of conspiring to murder a blind, developmentally disabled man in Maryland so his case worker could collect $1.4 million in life insurance policies.

The Baltimore jury cleared Kareem Jamal Clea and James Omar Clea III in a murder-for-hire plot prosecutors said was organized by a pastor who worked for a nonprofit organization that serves the developmentally disabled.

Lemuel Wallace, 37, was picked up from his group home and shot dead in a bathroom at a nearby park in 2009 after his case worker, Kevin Pushia, took out several life insurance policies on him by posing as his relative.

Pushia later told police that he paid the Clea brothers more than $50,000 for the murder, using funds from his church. Both brothers were charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, with Kareem Clea, 28, accused of being the shooter.

After the verdict was read in court, James Clea, 33, doubled over with relief. The two brothers, mostly silent during the three-week trial, shared a brief hug before a guard separated them. Neither brother testified at trial.

The Clea family, weeping and hugging in the hallway after the trial, declined comment, as did prosecutor Robin Wherley.

Much of the trial revolved around the rambling, often contradictory testimony of Pushia, who pleaded guilty to organizing the murder and faces life in prison when sentenced next month.

Defense attorneys had argued that Pushia framed the Clea brothers and testified against them to gain leniency in his own case.

Attorneys on both sides also criticized police for failing to fingerprint or analyze a soda can and footprint found at the crime scene.

In her closing arguments, the prosecutor reminded the jury that two employees of the group home testified they saw a man pick up Wallace just hours before his death. But both employees failed to clearly identify Kareem Clea as that man when asked by police and during testimony.

Police initially arrested Pushia after an insurance company alerted them to his name on Wallace's life insurance policies. After searching Pushia's Baltimore home, police found a day planner with "LW project complete" written for February 4, 2009, the date of the murder.

Pushia eventually confessed "LW" stood for Lemuel Wallace.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Cynthia Johnston)

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