Judge Issues Gag Order In Murder Trial's Closed Session

Stevens' Lawyers Seek To Have Confession Thrown Out

October 30, 1991|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff writer

A judge has issued a gag order in a case stemming from the slaying of an Annapolis man described as a former police informant.

CircuitJudge Raymond G. Thieme Jr. cleared the courtroom Monday for a hearing on whether accused murderer Howard Eugene "Howdy" Stevens Jr.'s confession to Annapolis police should be thrown out. Thieme's order to conduct the hearing behind closed doors came in response to a joint motion from prosecutor Frank Ragione and defense attorney William H. Murphy Jr.

Then, responding to a motion from Murphy, the judge issued a gag order on the case. Thieme refused to say yesterday why he issued the order.

Documents included in court files show Stevens told Annapolis police he was one of three men who armed themselves and, with a driver, set out looking for 22-year-old Sylvester Wayne "Tink" Johnson.Stevens told police he shot Johnson with a .38-caliber handgun earlylast Jan. 14 as Johnson sat sleeping in his car in a back alley nearan Eastport housing project, according to court records.

But a document entered into Stevens' case file shows Murphy is seeking to show that Annapolis police "induced" Stevens into making his statement by telling the suspect they would "try to get the charge reduced" to second-degree murder if he made a statement.

Furthermore, Murphy isseeking to introduce into evidence the results of a lie detector test that he says verifies Stevens' claim. Asking the court to break newground -- lie detector test results have never been allowed in a Maryland courtroom -- Murphy writes, "We believe that the science of polygraphy has progressed to a level of acceptance sufficient to allow the use of polygraph evidence in limited circumstances."

Court records show Stevens and Annapolis detectives Robert Disney and Kenneth Custer testified during Monday's nearly four-hour hearing. Exhibits introduced during the hearing -- and ordered sealed within the file -- included: Disney's notes; a form advising Stevens of his rights; a resume, presumably of the polygraph examiner who tested Stevens; and anundescribed "report."

The court records show Thieme at one point denied Murphy's motion to suppress the statement, but that testimony resumed and Thieme reserved ruling further on the motion to suppress and the admissibility of the "report."

Stevens, 25, of the first block of Gilmore Street in Annapolis is scheduled to stand trial Nov. 25 on charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.Co-defendants David Marshall "Manzie" Chapman and Christopher Dean Jones, both of Annapolis, have already pleaded guilty in connection with Johnson's slaying.

Chapman, 24, pleaded guilty last month to second-degree murder; he is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 16 to 25 years in prison, with seven years suspended. Ragione said witnesses would have testified that Chapman shot Johnson's 1981 Datsun 280Z at least twice with a shotgun.

Jones, 22, pleaded guilty in July to beingan accessory to murder after the fact. He is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 15.

A fourth co-defendant, 20-year-old Gary Ellis "Peanut"Brown of Annapolis will be tried next month.

Ragione has been reluctant to attach a motive to the slaying, but he suggests Johnson mayhave been the victim of a pre-emptive strike. Court records show Stevens told police he and his friends set out after Johnson because Johnson had threatened some of Stevens' friends over money owed to him. In a statement to police, Jones said Chapman apparently believed Johnson was going to try to blow up Chapman's Chevrolet Blazer or, with two Virginia men, break into the home of Chapman's mother.

Annapolis city government sources described Johnson as an informant for city police.

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