A man accused of robbing and murdering an armored-car guard outside a Columbia bank in January cannot be given the death penalty or life without parole because prosecutors did not tell him in person of their plans to seek those penalties, a judge ruled yesterday.
Circuit Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr. said Howard County prosecutors did not go far enough when they notified the defense in writing that they planned to seek the toughest possible penalties against Tyrone Colbert, 28, of Columbia, if he is convicted. "The sanctions are so severe that the court must interpret the language of the law strictly when it says the notice is served on the person of the defendant," Judge Kane said.
Colbert is charged with first-degree murder and armed robbery in the Jan. 11 slaying of Frederick John Cook Jr. of Middle River, a guard for the Loomis Armored car company, outside the Signet Bank in the Long Reach Village Center.
Anna Cook, the widow of the slain guard, tearfully expressed anger with Judge Kane's ruling. She said the ruling made her feel as if her husband of 40 years, who had four children and three grandchildren, "died for nothing."
"I don't like it at all," she said. "I hope he can sleep with his decision."
Prosecutor Richard O'Connor said there is no legal precedent in Maryland on the question of whether notice of the state's intent to seek the death penalty or life without parole must be served in person.
He said prosecutors cannot appeal Judge Kane's decision because their right to appeal a trial judge's rulings is limited.
Judge Kane also accepted guilty pleas from two of Colbert's co-defendants in the case yesterday and sentenced both of them to five years in prison and five years of supervised probation after their release.
Both Stephen A. Brock, 23, of Laurel, described as the driver of the getaway car, and Patricia Talkin Whitted, 32, of Silver Spring, said to be a lookout, pleaded guilty to armed robbery.
Prosecutors said the co-defendants have turned over to police a semiautomatic handgun believed to be the murder weapon and have agreed to testify against Colbert, who is serving a three-year sentence for the July 1989 holdup of an armored car in Baltimore County.
Colbert's trial in the Howard County case was rescheduled for Jan. 28 because prosecutors are awaiting test results from the FBI on the handgun and other evidence.
On Friday, Judge Kane closed the courtroom to the public and the press during a pretrial motion in which the widow of the slain guard was called as a defense witness. Sources said the motion dealt with an aborted plea deal involving Colbert. The state backed off after Mrs. Cook expressed opposition.