Conviction overturned in police slaying

January 25, 1992|By Norris West | Norris West,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- The Maryland Court of Appeals overturned yesterday the conviction of a man sentenced to death for killing a Baltimore police officer in an apartment building on Pennsylvania Avenue in 1989.

A four-judge majority of the state's highest court ordered a new trial for Shawn M. Woodson, ruling that the trial judge should not have allowed testimony by a fellow inmate at the City Jail who said Mr. Woodson confessed to shooting Officer William J. Martin.

"We'll get prepared to try the case again," said Baltimore State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms. "Based on all the evidence, we feel confident that we can mount an effective prosecution."

Asked whether he would again seek the death penalty, Mr. Simms said, "Barring something very expansive in the proceedings, we will go forward in the same manner that we did before" except for the disputed testimony.

Andre Spells, an inmate at City Jail when Mr. Woodson was being held there, testified during the trial that Mr. Woodson jTC showed him an injury he incurred during the shooting on an apartment stairwell and admitted that he had shot Officer Martin.

Spells said that he had shared a cell with Mr. Woodson for a day and two nights, but when a prosecutor asked him to identify Mr. Woodson in court, he responded, "I don't see him."

The Court of Appeals said yesterday that prosecutors failed to provide any evidence from jail records or guards that Mr. Woodson and Spells were ever cellmates and expressed concern that Spells failed to identify Mr. Woodson in court.

Noting that it was a capital punishment case, the court said more evidence was needed to link the two men before Spells could be allowed to testify against Mr. Woodson. "To admit such evidence," the court ruled, "would be, for example, to sanction the testimony of any witness who, without more, claims that a voice on the telephone, which he cannot recognize as the defendant's, identified himself using the name of the defendant, and confessed to the crime."

Mr. Woodson, formerly of the 4100 block of Boarman Avenue in Forest Park, was sentenced to death May 17, 1990, by Baltimore Circuit Judge David B. Mitchell for the 1990 slaying of Officer Martin in an apartment building in the 1500 block of Pennsylvania Avenue. Officer Herman L. Brooks Jr. was wounded.

Officer Martin, 37, died at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center from two bullets to the head.

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