Barring Of Victim's Mother From Murder Trial Draws Fire

Advocate Group Calls Defense's Move An Unethical Act

April 07, 1991|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Staff writer

A county judge last week barred from a murder trial the mother of the victim, prompting victims rights advocates to charge that the step was unethical.

At the defense's request, Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr.barred Margaret Gouldin last Monday from attending the trial of Vernon Lee Clark, the 35-year old Elkridge laborer charged with the July 3, 1989 murder and sexual assault of Kathleen Gouldin.

Clark's public defender, Barbara Kreinar, requested that Gouldin be removed from the courtroom because the defense may call her as a witness. All witnesses in the trial are under a sequestration order.

"The defense lawyers represented that she would possibly be calledas a witness and for that reason I did so," Kane said of his


But members of the Stephanie Roper Committee and Foundation, acrime-victims advocacy group, say the exclusion of Margaret Gouldin violates a 1989 state law which says victims or representatives of victims can only be barred from the courtroom after a finding of good cause.

Members say the exclusions often are made to keep jurors from seeing emotional family members during the trial.

"Ask yourself how you would feel if you were deprived of the right to see and hear with your own eyes and ears what happened," said Roberta Roper, founder and director of the Stephanie Roper Committee, whose members are monitoring the Clark trial.

Gouldin family members declined to comment on the trial.

Members of the Stephanie Roper Committee say it is common for defense attorneys to exclude family members of victims from the courtroom by saying they may be called as witnesses.

Thispractice, the committee says, is an abuse of the good cause exception in the 1989 state law.

"Clearly, the parent of a homicide victimwho knows nothing about the event that led to the child's death, wasn't at the crime scene or doesn't know the defendant has nothing to contribute to the trial proceedings," Roper said.

"Defense attorneys may be doing this within the law, but they're certainly doing it inan unethical fashion," she said.

Kreinar said she doesn't know atthis point if she will call Gouldin as a witness.

She would not comment on the Roper Committee's implication that the defense requested the mother's removal so the jury wouldn't see her.

"I'm offendedthat anyone would accuse us of doing that," she said.

The prosecutors in the case said they had subpoenaed Margaret Gouldin, but released her as a state witness so she could attend the trial, said Assistant State's Attorney Timothy G. Wolf.

"The defense invoked the rule of sequestration of witnesses by representing that she is a potential defense witness," Wolf said. "Under the rule, the court has no alternative but to request her sequestration."

The trial will resume Monday.

In testimony last week, Kathleen Gouldin's best friend said that the two women joked about Gouldin's tendency to be absent-minded about security measures.

"I'd say 'is the door locked?' and she'd say "Don't worry about it, you're in Elkridge," said Shantel Henson, who worked with Gouldin at the Baltimore nightclub Fat Tuesday's, where Gouldin was a manager.

Prosecutors say that Clark shot Gouldin through her bedroom window with a 20-gauge shotgun and then sexually assaulted her as shelay bleeding.

Clark, an animal skinner at Carroll Braun's rendering plant in Elkridge for 10 years, has consistently maintained his innocence in the killing since his arrest in January 1990.

The defense questioned Henson about Gouldin's relationship with an employee she fired from Fat Tuesday's.

Henson testifiedthat the man Gouldin fired had tried to force the two women into a parked car in the spring or summer of 1989.

Gouldin tried to run after the man, but Henson stopped her, she said.

"I don't think she (Gouldin) was afraid of him, but he upset her a lot," Henson said of the fired employee.

Other witnesses testified that Clark was in the parking lot of Gouldin's Elkridge apartment building, formerly the Elkridge Elementary School, on at least two occasions prior to the shooting.

Responding to a report of a suspicious person in June of 1989, Howard County police officer Maurice Carroll found Clark slumpedin the front seat of a white Ford station wagon in the apartment parking lot.

Clark said he was having car trouble and was waiting forthe car to cool off, Carroll testified.

Detective John Newnan testified that during an interview at the Howard County police station on July 11, 1989, Clark said that on the night of July 3, 1989, after eating pizza with friends, he drove to the parking lot of Gouldin's apartment building.

"He said he rolled a joint, snorted some coke and left the area to drive to Baltimore," where he spent the night at a friend's house, Newnan testified.

Clark said he had been to the apartment building before to look for cans in the trash and had also seen Gouldin on a couch through the window of her first floor apartment, Newnan testified.

"He was calm and upset," Newnan said of Clark's demeanor during the questioning. "He started crying at one point toward the end of the conversation."

Prosecutors contend Clark used the shotgun kept at the rendering plant to shoot Gouldin, and say that FBI lab tests show that the pellets found in Gouldin's body matchthe pellets seized by police at the plant.

Pete Cavey, the manager at the rendering plant, testified that Clark was a "good worker," but refused to go near the shotgun.

"He would not touch it," Cavey said. "I don't know why; he would never go get it for me."

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