Westminster Arson Trial Soon To Be Sent To Jury

November 03, 1991|By Maria Archangelo | Maria Archangelo,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER — After seven days of conflicting testimony in the arson-murder trial of city resident John M. Woodward, a Carroll Circuit Court jury is set to hear closing arguments and begin deliberations tomorrow.

Circuit Judge Francis M. Arnold gave the jurors the day off Friday.

Woodward, 35, is charged with first-degree murder, arson and willful and malicious destruction in connection with a four-alarm fire that killed 49-year-old Carvin "Big Joe" Hanna, caused $100,000 damage to the apartment building and left 12 people homeless.

Police and prosecutors claim Woodward set the fire to annoy a homeless man, Charles "Chicken Charlie" Ogline who often slept on the building's porch.

A few hours after the blaze, Ogline told police he set the fire. He was charged with the crime, but charges were later dropped.

Woodward and his attorney, J. Barry Hughes of Westminster, claim Ogline set the fire and that Woodward was pressured by police into saying hewas involved.

Hughes maintains that Woodward is mentally retardedand could not have understood his Miranda rights when they were readto him. He also claims Woodward did not understand the consequences of his actions when he confessed to the crime.

State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman and Deputy State's Attorney Edward Ulsch maintain that Woodward is not mentally impaired and that he understood the consequences of his confession.

Testimony in the case was dominated Tuesday and Thursday by psychologists and psychiatrists sparring in testimony for the state and the defense.

Dr. David Shapiro, a Pikesville psychologist, testified Tuesday that Woodward is mildly mentally retarded and was incapable of understanding the consequences when he confessed to police.

But Thursday, Pikesville psychologist Dr. Lawrence Donner testified that he found no evidence of retardation or brain damage when he tested and examined Woodward.

"It is clear to me he had a good understanding of his rights," Donner said.

Under cross-examination by Hughes, Donner said he believed Woodward may have been trying to distort his test scores -- getting things wrong that hegot right on Shapiro's tests -- because he knew Donner was working for the prosecution.

"I had some concern he was not completely doing his best with me," Donner testified.

Woodward took the stand Wednesday and repeated his version of the fire that he gave at a pretrial hearing in September.

He said he grabbed a smoke bomb from his apartment, lighted it, and placed it on the porch to make Ogline move from the couch where he was sleeping.

Woodward said he watched thesmoke bomb burn out and then returned to his apartment to get ready for bed.

He said a few minutes later he heard someone yelling and ran down to the porch to find it engulfed in flames.

During a contentious cross-examination, the state's attorney repeatedly questionedWoodward about the confession he gave to police May 15 that detailedthe way he set a couch cushion on the building's porch afire.

"The only way to get rid of Charlie was to burn his bed, isn't that right?" Hickman asked Woodward.

Throughout his testimony Woodward saidhe made the confession to police because they kept "pushing at him" and pressuring him to say he set the fire.

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