Defendent in 'cornfield case' claims his confession was coerced

August 23, 1992|By Traci A. Johnson | Traci A. Johnson,Staff Writer

The defendant in the "cornfield case" testified Friday that Baltimore homicide detectives denied him access to a lawyer, never told him his rights and coerced a taped confession from him admitting participation in the murder of an elderly North Baltimore woman last summer.

"The only thing I was told about a lawyer was that I could get one later," Abras Morrison, 21, told the jury at his trial in Carroll County Circuit Court.

Mr. Morrison testified that homicide detectives told him to sign and initial a sheet listing his rights "as a matter of procedure." But he said he did not know what it was and it wasn't read to him.

Mr. Morrison, of the 6000 block of Lanette Road in Baltimore County, and Troy Dominic Shellington, 21, of the 3600 block of Cottage Avenue in Baltimore, are charged with first-degree murder and kidnapping in the death of 74-year-old Margaret Cullen, whose body was found in a Hampstead cornfield last August.

Mr. Shellington's trial is scheduled for Sept. 21.

Mr. Morrison testified Friday that he told the detectives who questioned him that, despite a statement from Mr. Shellington implicating him in the crime, he took no part in the murder.

However, he said, police led him to believe that admitting participation in the crime would be in his best interests when the case went to court.

"They told me that if I said Mr. Shellington told me he did all those things, it would be hearsay and not admissible in court," Mr. Morrison told the jury.

Mr. Morrison, under questioning by defense attorney Michael Kaplan, said he was not told why he was being arrested, but he was handcuffed and taken to a small room at police headquarters and kept there for a number of hours.

The defendant said no one responded to his repeated requests to use the bathroom, which forced him to urinate in the room on a stack of newspapers.

Mr. Morrison again denied complicity in the crime as the prosecutor, State's Attorney Thomas Hickman, questioned him from the transcript of the confession.

"You just admitted to murder, kidnapping, theft, and other crimes without having anything to do with it?" Mr. Hickman asked Mr. Morrison.

"It seemed like the right thing to do at the time," the defendant said.

On direct examination, Mr. Morrison said that Detective Sgt. Gary Childs and another detective coached him in his statements and paused the tape when he needed to "straighten out" an answer to conform to the rest of his statements.

He also claimed that detectives threatened to deport his mother, a U.S. citizen who was born in Liberia, if he did not cooperate.

Mr. Morrison said he did not know the immigration laws well enough to realize that an immigrant granted citizenship cannot be deported.

"You were denied food, water, use of a bathroom, had family members threatened with deportation, were abused and coerced," Mr. Hickman said. "Did I get all your complaints?"

Mr. Morrison didn't answer.

Closing arguments are set for tomorrow, with the jury expected to begin deliberations later in the day.

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