Jury rejects damage claim Man imprisoned on perjured testimony.

November 20, 1991|By Kelly Gilbert | Kelly Gilbert,Evening Sun Staff

Guy Gordon Marsh spent 14 years, three months and 26 days in state prison for murder before authorities learned he had been convicted on perjured testimony.

Yesterday, a civil jury in U.S. District Court in Baltimore decided that Marsh's prison time wasn't worth a dime in damages.

Marsh, who was released in 1987, had filed the suit last year against the estate of the late George S. Romine, the Anne Arundel County police detective who investigated him for the 1971 murder of bystander Charles Erdman during an attempted holdup at a 7-Eleven store in Glen Burnie.

In his suit, Marsh alleged malicious prosecution, false imprisonment and violations of his due process and equal protection rights.

The jury, which deliberated 7 1/2 hours over two days after a two-week trial, yesterday found in favor of defendant John Romine, the executor of his father's estate.

Afterward, most of the jurors refused to talk about their deliberations. Foreman Henry Hinds Jr. said only that "it was a very emotional verdict" and that Marsh's guilt or innocence in the murder "was not part of it."

Marsh, who stormed out of the courtroom when Hinds read the verdict, said later that Anne Arundel County police "used taxpayers' money to perpetrate a fraud against me. They used the same methods in this case that they did in 1973."

"Nobody is safe against these people," Marsh said. "I wasn't just fighting for Gordie Marsh, I was fighting for everybody in this country. I fought for 20 years for nothing."

Marsh's lead attorney, Philip A. Yampolsky, called the verdict "very unfortunate . . . lousy" and said he will file an appeal.

Douglas W. Biser, who defended Romine's estate, said the verdict "vindicates the police department, the state's attorney's office and George Romine."

At its simplest, the case pitted Marsh and two witnesses who admitted they lied at his 1973 murder trial against Romine's reputation as a police officer and testimony that Marsh had told a Patuxent Institution psychologist and the victim's son, a prison guard, that he had killed Erdman.

Marsh testified that he was nowhere near the 7-Eleven when Erdman was shot to death. The plaintiff, who was a heroin user and small-time thief at the time, said he doesn't remember where he was that night, but knows he wasn't at the 7-Eleven.

In part, the civil verdict seemed to hinge on the credibility of Lynda Packech, a former heroin addict, and William "Willie" McFadden, a convicted burglar, the two people who perjured themselves and sealed Marsh's 1973 conviction.

Packech prompted Marsh's release in 1987 by recanting her testimony that she had seen him at the 7-Eleven and admitting she perjured herself at his criminal trial. She testified at this trial that Romine coerced her to testify by beating her, threatening her, and throwing her in jail for a week.

McFadden also recanted, under oath at this trial, that he had perjured himself to help convict Marsh of the murder. He, too, said Romine had coerced his testimony in 1973.

In closing arguments Monday, defense attorney Douglas W. Biser called Marsh's civil case "baloney" and called McFadden "a liar" who "can't be trusted" to tell the truth.

Biser argued to the jury that McFadden told another police officer about Marsh's involvement in the 7-Eleven murder "long before George Romine ever got involved" in the investigation.

The defense attorney said Packech was unbelievable because she did not use Romine's alleged beating and jailing of her as a coercion defense when she pleaded guilty to the perjury charge.

Biser noted that Packech knew when she recanted in 1987 that Romine was dead and unable to defend himself.

Romine, Biser said, "had every reason to believe" the stories of McFadden and Packech.

Biser also said there was "plenty of evidence" to suggest Marsh was guilty of the murder, including testimony from the psychologist and from Charles Erdman Jr. that Marsh had admitted the slaying to them.

Yampolsky, Marsh's attorney, argued that Packech's recantation was strong enough to prompt her prosecution for perjury. He also questioned why McFadden would open himself to similar prosecution if he was not telling the truth.

"They had nothing to gain by their testimony [at this trial]," Yampolsky said, "except to clear their guilty consciences."

Yampolsky also attacked the credibility of Charles Erdman Jr.'s testimony and that of several police officers who testified for the defense, for showing "an obvious bias" toward Romine.

"Mr. Marsh is entitled to be compensated for the massive disruption of his life," Yampolsky told the jury. "The filth, the noise, the smell, the fear, the surviving it [in prison], knowing when you wake up every day that this is how you're going to spend the rest of your life."

Judge Marvin J. Garbis, the trial judge, said in his jury charge that the main issue was whether Romine had violated Marsh's civil rights by arranging the perjured testimony.

"What you have seen is not a retrial of the criminal case," Garbis said. "You're not being asked to decide Mr. Marsh's guilt or innocence. This case does not turn on whether Marsh committed the crime."

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