Confronting the demons

Dan Rodricks

November 08, 1991|By Dan Rodricks

Getting back to the origins of the state's case against Gordie Marsh requires a 20-year journey over mostly scorched earth. Nothing about it is pretty, and, for all its promise of discovery, nothing about it guarantees safe arrival at the truth. And there might be nothing in this odyssey to certify Gordie Marsh's innocence, either.

What he can do is show that he was framed by a lie, and that the lie knocked 14 1/2 years out of his life. That, and a court-ordered settlement, is what he wants.

Here's some truth: In 1971, at a convenience store in Glen Burnie, a man named Charles Erdman was shot to death while trying to stop a holdup.

Two years later, after trying to hunt up suspects in a junkie jungle along Crain Highway, a tough-guy detective named George Romine brought a case to prosecutors; the key witness was a heroin addict named Lynda Packech.

Gordie Marsh, another junkie, was indicted. He went to trial. Packech testified that she had seen Marsh scamper out of a Glen Burnie 7-Eleven immediately after the Erdman shooting. Marsh was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Eight years after that, George Romine died. Lynda Packech had gone her own way, eventually getting into a methadone program.

Six years after that, as Marsh was about to turn 40, the truth came out.

And the truth, according to Packech, was that Packech had lied. It was an ugly story. She said Romine had offered a deal on some drug charges she was facing in exchange for her lies.

In 1987, Packech confessed perjury. She was frightened but happy. She had just stopped taking methadone, was finally drug-free, and finally in a position to confront the demons in her life -- not the least of which was the lie she had told about Marsh.

So yesterday, at long last, the liar came to testify in Marsh's civil damage suit, and to shake away the demons. Everyone in Room 7D of the U.S. District Court in Baltimore took the journey back to the bad old days.

"Haunted," is how Packech said she felt all these years -- 18 since she sat in a witness chair in Anne Arundel County and lied.

Was it genuine? Yesterday, a lawyer asked Packech if she believed Marsh had been involved in the Erdman murder.

"It was rumored," she said.

"And you believed it?" the attorney asked.

"Maybe I wanted to believe it because of what I was doing."

It was a strange morning. Packech constantly invoked the name of the dead detective, Romine, who, she said, had coerced her into testifying and had coached her on evidence. Passing references to "Mr. Erdman" stirred up the specter of the innocent victim lost some long-ago summer night to the dark annals of violent crime. And there was something spooky when Packech spoke of herself and her drug-infested youth -- as if the old junkie, cast to the wind, still hovered about, still haunted her.

Packech was well-dressed and neat, with long, dark, healthy hair. Except for moments when her voice quivered and her eyes froze oddly into wide stares, she seemed calm and resolved. She was a good witness for Marsh.

Still, something of the old Lynda Packech had to be there. She had survived a long marriage to heroin, several visits to jail and, in 1973, the harassment of George Romine -- that name again -- who was once so angered by her reluctance to lie under oath that he pushed her against a car hard enough to bruise her face. Packech, about 40 years old now, looked like a woman who had been pushed a lot.

But mostly she looked like someone trying to shake demons, to get on with life.

She said her life was a lot different 18 years ago. She was a junkie; her addiction overwhelmed everything. When the detective pressured her to lie against Marsh, Packech agreed.

Nearly 15 years went by before someone realized that Packech could not possibly have seen Gordie Marsh the night of the Erdman murder. She was herself in jail on a shoplifting charge.

Packech, of course, knew that all along. In 1973, she got away with the lie.

Yesterday, seated 20 feet from the man who spent 14 1/2 years in jail because of it, Linda Packech confessed to a jury, and you could almost hear the guilt tearing away from her a layer at a time.

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