John Lee Leonard, accused of slaying former Annapolis High School basketball star Reno T. Green, was due in court for a hearing yesterday-- and the court was ready for him.
Sheriff's deputies, providingbeefed-up security at the Circuit Courthouse, stood nervously near Courtroom 5, blocking off all bystanders.
"Clear the hall, we have a wacko coming through. We have to get him into the courtroom," one deputy announced.
Leonard, 41, earned his reputation with the deputies during a prior hearing in which he repeatedly addressed a Circuit Court judge using profanity.
SheriffRobert G. Pepersack said he decided to use tighter security after learning of alleged threats from unidentified individuals that they might help Leonard make an escape attempt.
Pepersack said he did not have detailed information about the threats and would not characterize them as posing real danger.
But, he added, "We don't dismiss anything as unreal" once a threat is made.
Wearing hand and ankle chains and surrounded by three deputies, the 5-foot-5, 128-pound Leonardentered the courtroom without incident. Leonard of Annapolis is charged with first-degree murder for the July 1989 slaying of Green. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
Edward Smith Jr., a Baltimore private practice attorney assigned to Leonard's case by the publicdefender's office, argued at length Thursday that the case should bedismissed.
Leonard, who was arrested in Oakland, Calif., six months after Green's murder, was not immediately turned over to Anne Arundel County because he also faced weapons and drug possession charges in Washington. The District of Columbia is part of the federal court system, and its cases have priority over state cases, prosecutors said.
Smith argued that if the state's attorney's office had tried harder, it could have gained custody of Leonard sooner. During the 16 months he was in federal custody, two potential witnesses -- SylvesterJohnson, 22, and Robert Maynard, 29 -- were slain in Annapolis in separate incidents.
These two witnesses could have provided Leonard an alibi for the night Green was slain, Smith argued, adding that thedelay in setting his trial date definitely hurt his client's case.
"They could have gotten him before his witnesses met their demise,"Smith said.
Circuit Judge Eugene M. Lerner rejected the argument,saying the state had done "everything humanly possible" to gain custody of Leonard as soon as possible.
Prosecutor Frederick M. Paone added that the defense had not shown that the witnesses would have been available even if the trial had proceeded earlier.
In a separate motion, Smith successfully argued for a delay in the trial date, saying he had not had enough time to prepare due to a lengthy trial last month. The judge granted a postponement from Oct. 15 to Nov. 12 forSmith to prepare after reading a letter from Leonard saying that an Oct. 12 trial would be "a mockery and a sham which is repugnant to any citizen."
The judge denied a motion to suppress evidence collected from Leonard's car during a subsequent arrest in Washington, whichresulted in the weapons and drug charges. Arguments on other motionsregarding suppression of evidence were postponed until the day of the trial.
Smith said he and Leonard, who is being held at the county detention center, must "think for a week" about whether to request a change of venue, that is, have the case moved to another county. Smith did not elaborate as to why he might ask for the change.
Leonard's co-defendant, Wendell Julian Daniels, 28, who also is being heldin the detention center, is scheduled to be sentenced in the case Nov. 6. Daniels pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and agreed to testify against Leonard in exchange for a sentence of 15 years in prison.
According to a statement presented by the prosecution at a prior hearing, Daniels approached Green as part of a robbery attempt July8, 1989. After Daniels displayed a handgun, he and Green began struggling. During the fight, Daniels fired twice, hitting the ground withone bullet and hitting a bystander with the other.
The prosecution's version of the facts states that Leonard then stepped forward andshot Green in the back and in the pelvis. Green died minutes later.
Leonard's criminal record includes convictions on charges of attempted murder, armed robbery, bank robbery and possession of a controlled dangerous substance.