Leonard's Murder Trial Delayed

Race Of Jurors Prompts Concern

November 13, 1991|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff writer

Accused murderer John Lee Leonard Jr., a k a John Leonard-Bey, a k aSamad A. Taawab-Bey, turned in his chair and looked upon row after row of white faces.

This was to be the start of his capital murder trial. He'd tried to fire his lawyer. He'd called for the judge, the target of his four-letter words at a previous hearing, to step down.

He'd picked up his papers and said, "I don't care to be here if Icannot get a fair trial."

In response, the judge had told Leonardto do what he wanted. The trial, already twice delayed, was going tobegin.

It was going to begin until 71 of the 75 potential jurors in the case turned out to be white.

After a lengthy bench conference, county Circuit Judge Eugene M. Lerner announced the trial would not start until tomorrow. Leonard, accused of killing former AnnapolisHigh School basketball star Reno T. Green, is black.

His attorney, Edward Smith Jr., confirmed that the bench conference involved racial composition of the jury. William A. Chansler, assistant county jury commissioner, said 130 prospective jurors would be brought in tomorrow.

The dispute over the panel of potential jurors came near the end of a tense morning yesterday in court, where beefed-up security measures included four deputies following Leonard's every move. Shotgun-toting deputies manned the streets outside the courthouse for the 5-foot-5, 128-pound Leonard's arrival and departure.

Officials saidthe security would have been even tighter had it not been for the arrest Sunday of 20-year-old fugitive Anthony James Freeland. Additional police and a SWAT team had been called in for a hearing last month after authorities received a tip that Freeland, who escaped Sept. 3 from armed guards in front of District Court in Annapolis, was going to help Leonard escape.

Sheriff Robert Pepersack said the increasedsecurity would remain in effect throughout Leonard's trial, expectedto last 10 days. He said security would also be increased for the comings and goings of co-defendant Wendell J. Daniels, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and agreed to testify against Leonard in return for a 15-year sentence and incarceration in a "protective environment."

Both men were charged in the July 8, 1989 slaying of Green, 21. At a hearing in Daniels' case, Paone said Green was shot firstby Daniels and seconds later, in the back, by Daniels' "partner." Daniels' lawyer told the judge the incident arose from a dispute over adrug debt.

Leonard, 42, of the 1800 block of Copeland Street, Annapolis, is charged with first-degree murder, armed robbery and conspiracy.

Leonard arrived in court yesterday wearing a black jacket, jeans and his customary burgundy fez with black tassels. He immediately announced his intention to fire his lawyer, complaining that witnesses had not been subpoenaed and that Smith, a private attorney from Baltimore assigned to the case by the public defender's office, had not met with him often enough.

Leonard also asked Lerner to step down from the case, pointing to, among other things, an April court appearance in which Leonard had repeatedly cursed the judge. Leonard alsosaid he had once filed a complaint about Lerner with a judicial review panel.

Lerner read a letter written by Leonard which stated: "Appealing to the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County is like appearing before a wolf whose jaws are already dripping with my blood."

Leonard also said the judge's "facial expressions" could prejudice thejury against him.

In rejecting the motion, Lerner said, "You camein here and cursed me out, but I don't take any offense to it. I don't care."

He then gave Leonard a choice of representing himself, with Smith's help, or keeping Smith. Leonard decided to allow Smith torepresent him -- at least during the relatively routine pre-trial motions that followed the dismissal of the jury panel.

When the hearing ended, Lerner asked Leonard if he was satisfied that all of his motions had been heard.

Leonard said they had, adding, "And I thankthe court for that. That was one of my main concerns."

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