When a witness backs down DISMISSAL

June 23, 1991|By M. Dion Thompson

Tanya Jones, 22, had been dead a week when, on Sept. 28, 1988, police found her body on the third floor of an abandoned building in the 1000 block of North Broadway.

No stranger to the world of drugs and murder, Ms. Jones had witnessed a slaying five months earlier, a young man shot dead on a church's steps two blocks away. Now she, too, was dead, shot through the head. No gun was ever found. The killers left no forensic evidence -- fingerprints, hair fibers, blood -- for investigators to trace.

Months passed without a break in her case. Then, on Dec. 13, 1988, police found Inger Clark, who said that around Sept. 21 she was in a room with several others who accused Ms. Jones of stealing a drug dealer's cocaine. Ms. Jones denied having done so. But, according to Ms. Clark, the accusers were not satisfied. Someone in the group suggested murder as the best solution. Later on the day of Sept. 21, Ms. Jones was lured into the empty apartment. According to Ms. Clark, the gunman was paid $500 for the job.

No other witnesses ever came forward. There was only Ms. Clark and her story. It was "a very bare-bones case," said Laura Mullally, the prosecutor assigned to the case. But it was enough to bring to the grand jury, which in turn indicted Tanya Boyce, 23, William Hunt, 23, and Maurice McNeil, 28, for their roles in bringing about the murder. All were arrested, charged and jailed, but they never went to trial.

Twenty-three other cases from 1988 also never went to trial, even though there were grand jury indictments and witnesses. But an indictment merely charges a person with a crime. It's not enough to bring a case to trial. That requires evidence, either circumstantial or from witnesses. And it must be enough to convince 12 jurors of the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

No jury ever decided Ms. Jones' case. As the trial neared, Ms. Clark started backing away. She didn't show up for the first trial date, May 16, 1989.

Police later found her in the in-patient unit of Church Hospital. She didn't want anything to do with the trial of those she had accused of murder.

"She just shut down," said Ms. Mullally. "You know, there are some people who like to give information to the police, but that's all they'll do."

On July 5, 1989, the case came before Baltimore Circuit Judge Elsbeth Levy Bothe.

"I remember saying [to Ms. Jones' mother], I can put [Ms. Clark] on but it's a crapshoot," said Ms. Mullally.

It had been nearly a year since Ms. Jones' murder; more than six months since Ms. Clark first told her story. The state had nothing to support her testimony. The defendants weren't interested in pleading guilty. On that July morning, only Ms. Clark knew what she would say on the witness stand. She might deny everything. Armed only with a reluctant, potentially hostile witness, prosecutors decided to go no further.

They put the case on the inactive docket and, for all intents and purposes, dropped the charges against Mr. Hunt, Mr. McNeil and Ms. Boyce.

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