Woman tells court of coercion Marsh-case witness on stand in civil suit.

November 08, 1991|By Kelly Gilbert | Kelly Gilbert,Evening Sun Staff

Shortly before Lynda Packech was to testify for the prosecution in a murder case in 1973, Anne Arundel County police Detective George Romine tracked her down at Harundale Mall.

He took her outside and slammed her face against his car so hard that she received a large bruise.

The encounter sent a message to Packech, who had failed to appear at an earlier court hearing in the murder case: Show up and testify.

When Packech went to court, the trial judge asked about her bruise and swollen face.

"I said it was from an abscessed tooth," she said yesterday, "because I was afraid of George Romine."

That day in 1973 Packech told a jury, under oath, that she had seen Guy Gordon Marsh coming out of a 7-Eleven store in Glen Burnie at the time a bystander was killed there in a holdup in June 1971. Packech described the time she was there, the color of Marsh's ski mask and shoes, and other details that helped convict Marsh of murder.

But that testimony was a lie, Packech told a civil jury in U.S. District Court in Baltimore yesterday.

At the time of the murder, she said, she was doing 60 days in jail for shoplifting.

Packech said Romine threatened her with 20 to 25 years in prison for heroin possession unless she linked Marsh to the holdup. She was a hopeless addict at the time, and Romine promised to drop the drug charges if she identified Marsh, she said.

"I said I wasn't there," Packech told the federal jury. "He [Romine] knew I wasn't there. But he coerced me into testifying."

Marsh served 14 1/2 years of a life-plus-10-year term in prison before he was freed in 1987, after Packech told authorities of her perjury. By that time, Romine had died.

Now Marsh is trying to collect damages from Romine's estate in a multimillion-dollar lawsuit that charges malicious prosecution, false arrest and imprisonment, and violations of his civil rights.

Marsh originally sued several Anne Arundel County police officers and state troopers, a prosecutor and Southland Corp., 7-Eleven's parent company. Judge Marvin J. Garbis dismissed charges against all defendants except Romine's estate before the trial, which began this week.

Packech recanted her testimony against Marsh in 1987, pleaded guilty to perjury and served a state prison term.

Yesterday, now drug-free and working, she related vivid details of Romine's coercion to the jury in Marsh's civil case.

Packech said she told Romine from the outset that all she knew about Marsh's alleged role in the murder were "rumors" that she had heard from her addict friends.

But Romine, eager for a conviction, pressured her again and again, Packech said, until she finally agreed to testify against Marsh.

Then the detective forced her to sign a sworn statement saying she had seen Marsh at the store when the murder occurred. She knew Marsh, she said, because they had used heroin together.

In the weeks before the murder trial, Romine would meet her in his office, or near her home, to discuss her pending testimony.

"We'd go over the story," Packech said yesterday. "We'd talk about the color of the ski mask, the shoes, the time. He would tell me, and I'd repeat it back. And he'd tell me questions I might be asked" on cross-examination.

The first time she was scheduled to testify against Marsh, "I didn't show up," Packech said. "I didn't want to testify. It [her planned testimony] wasn't the truth."

In retaliation for her failure to appear, Romine hauled Packech off to jail in Millersville. She was there "about a week," she said. "I thought I was under arrest."

But she said she wasn't charged with a criminal offense, wasn't taken before a judge or court commissioner to set bail and was eventually released.

"Why did you get out?" Marsh's attorney, Philip A. Yampolsky, asked her.

"Because I said I'd testify," Packech replied.

Later, Romine slammed her face against the car, Packech said.

After Marsh's conviction, Romine dismissed Packech's drug charges and her restitution in a shoplifting case.

But she lived with her guilt about Marsh's conviction for years. Eventually, she beat her drug addiction and decided to tell authorities about her perjury, she said.

On cross-examination by defense attorney Douglas W. Biser yesterday, Packech admitted she had received a $1,500 reward for her murder trial testimony. She said she gave the money to a friend.

She also said she was glad that Marsh subpoenaed her to testify at the civil trial "because the truth would come out" about Romine.

"He was a bad cop," Packech said. "He was one to stay away from."

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