ANNAPOLIS -- Kevin L. Jones, who was only 15 years old when he was convicted in the murder of a retired United Methodist minister in 1988, will get another chance to plead his case to a jury.
The Court of Special Appeals has sent the case back to Baltimore for a new trial, ruling that Jones was improperly required to take the witness stand for his co-defendant in the robbery and murder of the Rev. Lewis F. Ransom, former pastor of Towson United Methodist Church.
Jones, now 18, had not answered questions on the stand, citing his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself.
But even though Baltimore Circuit Judge Mabel Houze Hubbard had told the jury not to consider his silence in its deliberations, his right to a fair trial was prejudiced because he was forced to "plead the Fifth" in front of the jurors, the court ruled Thursday.
"That's not surprising," said Donald Giblin, the prosecutor. "We knew we were in trouble on that ground."
"Oh, God," sighed Sally Ransom, the minister's wife, who started a survivors' assistance program in the city after her husband's murder. "I knew this was going to happen. I read both briefs and got some legal advice. What it does, it just starts the grieving process all over again."
Mr. Ransom, 76, was shot and robbed March 22, 1987, as he was returning to his car at Lombard and Eutaw streets, apparently after visit
ing patients at University Hospital.
Jones and Timothy Rogers, 25, were tried together about a year later and convicted. Rogers, whose conviction was upheld two years ago, is serving life plus 20 years. Jones was sentenced to 30 years.
During the trial, Saul E. Kerpelman, Rogers' lawyer, called Jones as a witness for Rogers. On the advice of his lawyer, Jones refused to answer all the questions put to him, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Elizabeth L. Julian, Jones' lawyer, moved unsuccessfully for a mistrial, arguing that no amount of instructions from the judge could cure the impression made by her client's refusal to answer questions in front of the jury. Maryland's intermediate appellate court agreed.
Jones' right not to testify "has been undermined, indeed, rendered meaningless by being called as a witness in his co-defendant's case," Judge Robert M. Bell wrote for the three-judge panel.
Moreover, forcing him to refuse to answer questions before the jury not only called attention to his silence, but gave it additional importance, the court ruled.
In fact, the jurors were so impressed that they asked Judge Hubbard in a note, "What does it mean when the defendant takes the Fifth?" the panel noted.
Mrs. Ransom said she would not have denied Jones his appeal and was prepared for the outcome. "But it's still a shock when you hear it," she added. "It's like rubbing salt in the wound."