Murder conviction overturned Appeals court cites trial judge's remarks

November 29, 1990|By Joel McCord | Joel McCord,Anne Arundel Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- The Court of Special Appeals overturned yesterday the murder conviction of a Baltimore man, who already was on parole for a previous murder, because of remarks the trial judge made in the presence of the jury.

Those comments by Baltimore Circuit Judge Elsbeth L. Bothe were "so egregious, so inflammatory" that the court was forced to reverse the conviction of Warren A. Waddell, 38, Judge Paul E. Alpert wrote for the three-judge panel.

The ruling marks the third time in two years that the intermediate appellate court has chastised Judge Bothe for comments she made from the bench.

But it is the first time the court overturned a conviction from her court.

In yesterday's decision, the court sent Waddell's case back to Baltimore for a new trial. Gary Bair, head of the attorney general's appellate division, said he will review the opinion to decide whether to ask the Court of Appeals to take another look at the case.

Waddell was convicted in October 1989 of shooting to death Charlton Robinson, a co-worker at Precision Cement Co., the day after Mr. Robinson teased and insulted him, according to court documents. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

During the trial, Robert Kline, a supervisor for the cement company, testified that he allowed Waddell to carry a gun to work even after he had been ordered not to. "And you just let him do it?" Judge Bothe asked repeatedly, expressing disbelief.

Later, Mr. Kline said he was familiar with Waddell's neighborhood and understood why he might need protection.

"You know better now," Judge Bothe replied with the jury in theroom.

The meaning of the comment is "crystal clear," Judge Alpert wrote. It meant that Waddell carried the gun for reasons other than protection, and the "indisputable implication" was that he had killed Mr. Robinson, the judge wrote.

The court has "warned this trial judge on at least two prior occasions that she should act with restraint during trial to avoid the appearance of prejudice against the accused," Judge Alpert recounted. But the warnings "appear to have had little effect," he added.

"Through that comment, the judge . . . crossed over the line of impartiality and became an advocate for the state," making it impossible for Waddell to have had a fair trial, he concluded.

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