MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. - A Montgomery County teen and his brother face up to life in prison in connection to a 2022 deadly shooting.
In court Tuesday, 16-year-old Malik Hney and his 17-year-old brother Malachi Hney were acquitted in the murder of Taon Cline. The pair were found not guilty on charges of first-degree murder and use of a firearm in the commission of a crime of violence. They were, however, found guilty of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.
But a comment from the younger defendant to the victim’s family after the verdicts were read is what sparked outrage in the courtroom.
"He said ‘I’ve been locked up since I was 15 years old,'" the victim’s family told FOX 5. "He looked directly at us and said, ‘I’m still smoking on that d*** n****,’ referring to Taon, so I felt like that was very disrespectful."
The State’s Attorney for Montgomery County says he has seen cases were security had to get involved but perhaps not as dramatic as what the jurors saw Tuesday.
The family says they felt that Malik essentially confessed to his direct involvement with the shooting and chaos broke out afterward.
"Taon did not deserve that. Taon was a very happy young man. Taon always a smile on his face. He was a very family-oriented person. I don’t really have much to say but I’m just grateful justice was served. Now my soul can rest," his family member said.
The fatal shooting happened last year off of Gunners Branch Road in Germantown. First responders found Cline suffering from multiple gunshot wounds outside of a building in the area and he was pronounced dead at the scene.
According to court documents, the gun violence was a result of social media postings that escalated. According to the charging documents, the victim's sister told police that he had received a threatening message on Instagram from a profile believed to belong to Malik just two days before the shooting.
The State’s Attorney for Montgomery County says the investigation found the Hney brothers and two other juvenile co-defendants were involved in an ongoing dispute between gangs in the Germantown and Gaithersburg areas. The victim was apparently associated with a rival gang.
After receiving a tip from a neighbor about the suspect vehicle and interviewing eyewitnesses, prosecutors obtained arrest warrants for the Hney brothers and the two juveniles.
FOX 5 spoke with Malik's attorney, Rick Finci, to get his side. Finci doesn’t agree with Cline’s family and their interpretation of the comment made by his client, saying Malik did not admit to anything.
"I’m sympathetic to their loss but I did not get the same impression that they got from what my client was saying but I’m not sure I heard it clearly. I’m not sure the state heard it clearly, and I’m not sure Mr. Cline’s family heard it clearly. There’s a record of it, and we have to get that released," Finci said.
He says it was an outburst in an emotional and tense moment.
"It is not surprising that a 16-year-old lacked the capacity to manage his emotions after hearing that he was found not guilty of 1st-degree murder, just as he has been insisting all along, but nevertheless guilty of a conspiracy count," Finci said in an email to FOX 5. "I have learned that the State's Attorney is claiming that he confessed during his outburst. My interpretation and impression of what he said was quite the opposite."
Finci says they plan to appeal the conspiracy conviction. The exact sentencing date is not yet known