Judge's Pretrial Ruling Cripples Schumacher's Defense

Prosecution Witness Will Testify On Previous Shooting

November 15, 1991|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff writer

The case for a hitchhiking Canadian fugitive charged with shooting at a pair of state troopers was dealt a critical blow yesterday by a judge's pretrial ruling, the man's lawyer acknowledged.

Negotiations for a plea agreement resumed yesterday after Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr. ruled to allow a key prosecution witness' testimony in the trial of Pvt. Eric W. Schumacher, scheduled to begin today. Schumacher is charged with attempted murder.

Thieme ruled to allow testimony from a police officer allegedly shot by Schumacher in Toronto six days before the defendant and another Canadian soldier who was absent without leave, Pvt. Donald R. Nelson, allegedly exchanged shots with troopers on U.S. 50 near Crownsville. Thieme agreed with State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee, who saidthe earlier shooting -- and the fugitive status that followed -- would help show Schumacher's intent during the Maryland incident.

In arguing that Toronto Constable Larry Dee should not be allowed to testify, Schumacher's lawyer said a jury should be told only that the troopers knew the men were wanted.

Defense attorney Timothy D. Murnane told the judge, "We might as well fold up our tents and go home ifthis evidence about what happened in Canada is allowed in."

Leaving the courtroom after the judge issued the ruling -- and denied a request to delay the trial while the defense investigated the Toronto shooting -- Murnane said: "I'm f-----."

Speaking to a group of reporters in front of the county courthouse, Murnane later said, "You have to play the cards the judge deals you."

In the last two days, the judge has issued a string of decisions favorable to the prosecution, including a ruling allowing testimony of a statement Schumacher made to police after his arrest. Tfc. Anthony J. M. Faggio, the state police's lead investigator in the case, testified Wednesday Schumacher admitted firing two shots at two troopers who had stopped him and Nelson.

The start of the trial was postponed from yesterday until today because most of the more than 120 potential jurors summoned to thecourthouse yesterday were tied up in jury selection for a capital murder trial down the hall.

Schumacher and Nelson are charged in a shootout that allegedly occurred after state troopers stopped the men at about 11 p.m. June 6 while they were hitchhiking on U.S. 50 and found they were wanted in the Toronto shooting. Police have said Trooper Kimberly Brooks yelled when she found a gun on Schumacher, prompting Nelson to pull his gun on Trooper Kimberly Bowman.

Outlining thedefense's theory of the case, Murnane said Bowman "panicked" and fired the first shot after Brooks yelled. He said Bowman later told police she was unsure whether she or Nelson fired first. In court yesterday, Murnane said Brooks joined the shootout and fired nine shots at Schumacher before Schumacher returned fire.

Neither trooper was injured in the shooting, but Bowman was shot in the belt buckle. Schumacher was arrested after a 41-hour manhunt.

The shooting of the constable near SkyDome in Toronto and the six days the soldiers spent on the lam became a national story in Canada.

Reporters from two Toronto newspapers, both the English and French Canadian wire services and a Toronto television station were in Annapolis yesterday to cover Schumacher's trial.

Nelson is scheduled to be tried on identical charges Dec. 17. Both men are being held at the county detention center.

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