Murderer Puts Attorney On Hot Seat

New Trial Sought, Disbarred Lawyer Cited

August 04, 1991|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff writer

Convicted murderer Bernie Ward, back in court to seek a new trial, sat next to the prosecutor who put him away.

Sorting his papers andlining up his yellow legal pads, Assistant State's Attorney Ronald M. Naditch extended a portion of the civility customarily allowed between prosecutor and defendant. A crisp "Mr. Ward, how are you?"

Ward, a resident of the Maryland Penitentiary in Baltimore, didn't miss a beat with his curt response: "Terrible."

So much for chitchat.

Ward continues to maintain his innocence, and he says he pleaded guilty to murder only because his lawyer's incompetence made hisabbreviated 1989 trial a joke. It follows, then, that he doesn't have a very high opinion of the legal system.

He's certainly not interested in small talk with this prosecutor, who sees Ward as clever and slick -- and just another killer trying to lie his way out of trouble.

The chief villain in Bernie Ward's mind, however, is his former lawyer, George Kariotis. Kariotis represented Ward in the July 1989trial that was cut short when the 31-year-old Pasadena man pleaded guilty -- after all the evidence had been heard but before the case went to the jury.

And while the case remains "State of Maryland vs. Bernard Leon Ward Jr.," it was Kariotis who was on the hot seat during much of last week's hearing. In fact, Kariotis cried on the stand when asked about his disbarment, on an unrelated matter, subsequent toWard's trial.

Ward's new lawyer, Frederic C. Heyman is attemptingto persuade county Circuit Judge Robert H. Heller Jr. that Ward's right to a fair trial was violated. William C. Mulford II, the assistant state's attorney now handling the case, dismisses Heyman's criticisms of Kariotis as second-guessing of trial tactics and not proof of incompetence.

When the hearing began July 24 -- the proceedings have frequently been interrupted but are expected to end Wednesday -- Heyman tried to establish that veteran prosecutor Naditch had run roughshod over an overmatched opponent. Holding a copy of the trial transcript, Heyman asked Naditch whether he was aware Kariotis never once objected to a prosecution question in the trial.

Heyman also calledWard's close friend Jim Scott to the stand to describe possible evidence suggested to Kariotis to support Ward's alibi that he had left for Florida three days before the murder. Scott complained the lawyer failed to pursue the leads.

Mark Malanowski, who knew Ward and thevictim, testified Kariotis had attempted to bribe him for false testimony at Ward's trial. He said Kariotis offered him free legal service in exchange for Malanowski fudging the date he said he saw Ward andthe victim leaving a Baltimore gay bar together.

And Ward also took the stand, saying he saw his lawyer only a few times before the trial, adding that Kariotis pressured him into pleading guilty to the murder because the lawyer's career would be ruined if his bribe offer was exposed. Ward also said Kariotis told him he would be sentenced to 10 years and be out on parole in five if he pleaded guilty.

Mulford called to the stand sheriff's Deputy Michael Katunick, who said he was present when Kariotis proposed the guilty plea to Ward and his family. Katunick said he heard no mention of a 10-year sentence or talk of anyone's career being threatened.

Kariotis, who will return to the stand when the hearing resumes this week, said his decision not to object to hearsay testimony was a "trial tactic."

Another source of tension in the hearing has been questions involving witness Jim Scott's sexual orientation. Scott angrily and emphatically denied Mulford's suggestions that he was Ward's gay lover, saying, "I think it's disgusting that a man can't have a close friendship with another man without suggestions that they are having sex together."

Mulford, trying to cast doubts on Scott's credibility, called county homicide detectives Donald Hauf and David Harp to the stand Thursday to sayScott told them he met Ward while "cruising" for gay sex near Baltimore's Leakin Park. Scott had said earlier that he had used the word "cruising" in the sense of driving a car and rejected the connotationsof homosexuality.

Ward's 1989 trial ended when he entered an Alford plea, in which a defendant acknowledges sufficient evidence to convict him of the charge but does not admit guilt. In return for his plea, prosecutors agreed not to seek a sentence of life in prison with no chance for parole and dropped an armed robbery charge.

At a sentencing hearing two months later, Circuit Judge H. Chester Goudy Jr.,ruling Ward had been adequately advised of his rights and had made areasoned choice in pleading guilty, refused to grant him a new trial. Ward unsuccessfully asked the state Court of Special Appeals to throw out his conviction, arguing that Goudy, after hearing conflicting testimony in the trial, should have rejected his guilty plea.

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