Confession Weighed As Evidence

September 29, 1991|By Maria Archangelo | Maria Archangelo,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER — A Circuit judge is deciding whether the confession of a man accused of arson and murder will be allowed in court.

Westminster attorneyJ. Barry Hughes argued before Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck Friday that statements made by his client to police were involuntary and illegally obtained.

Hughes is representing John Woodward, 35, a former resident of the apartment building at 88 W. Main St. he is accused of setting on fire.

The April 24 blaze killed 49-year-old Carvin "Big Joe" Hanna, caused an estimated $100,000 damage to the building and left 12 people homeless. Woodward also is charged with first-degree murder in Hanna's death.

Hughes is trying to suppress the statements about the fire Woodward made May 15 to Westminster Police Detective Lt. Dean Brewer and Deputy State Fire Marshal Frank Rauschenberg.

After 2 1/2 days of testimony by psychologists, police officials and Woodward's family, Hughes told Beck he believes his client felt pressured into making incriminating statements because he believed Brewer and Rauschenberg were his friends.

Hughes said Woodward told the men he started the fire because he thought that was what they wanted to hear. "They played him like a harp," he said.

Psychologists for the defense testified early in the week that tests showed Woodward was mentally retarded and therefore could not understand his Miranda rights when they were read to him.

A Westminster woman, whose husband employed Woodward off and on since he was 12, testified that Woodward made up "tall tales" and often told people what they wanted to hear.

Kathleen Glass said she called Westminster Police Chief Sam R. Leppo when she heard Woodward was arrested because she was "afraid John admitted to setting the fire to get attention."

Hughes challenged the testimony of Dr. Lawrence Donner, a Pikesville psychologist who testified for the state.

Hughes said Donner has a "Dick Tracy" complex -- that he was more interested in solving the case than rendering accuratepsychological opinions.

Donner testified that Woodward is not mentally retarded and that he understood the consequences when he confessed to setting the fire.

Deputy State's Attorney Edward Ulsch argued that the friendly tone used by Brewer and Rauschenberg was helpful, not coercive. He said Woodward understood he did not have to talk to the police.

Beck said he will make a decision on the matter by the end of the week. Woodward's trial is set to begin Oct. 21.

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