Auto manslaughter case ends in mistrial

September 27, 1992|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Staff Writer

A Crownsville man's trial on auto manslaughter and other motor vehicle charges ended Friday after a jury deliberated for nearly four hours and announced that it was deadlocked.

Jurors heard a day of arguments before adjourning to decide whether Clinton E. Harrison of the 1100 block of Blue Bird Lane was guilty in the Sept. 8, 1991, death of his friend, William Mercer, 31, of Bowie.

Judge Lawrence H. Rushworth declared a mistrial after jurors sent out a note that they were deadlocked and jury foreman Lawrence Condry said the jurors had remained firm in their 7-5 vote for acquittal throughout the deliberations.

William Roessler, deputy state's attorney, said after the testimony that he would not retry the case.

"We brought out all the best evidence that we could bring out. If we couldn't get a guilty verdict this time, then I doubt there's any reasonable prospect of getting a guilty verdict at retrial," Mr. Roessler said.

According to the evidence, Mr. Harrison and Mr. Mercer left the home in Crownsville that Mr. Harrison shared with Elisabeth M. Marshall shortly after midnight in her 1990 Corvette.

The car was heading west on Old Herald Harbor Road near the intersection with Bill Carr Road in Crownsville when it reached a speed of about 70 mph, left the road, hit two trees and "just disintegrated," Mr. Roessler told jurors in opening statements.

Both occupants of the car were ejected.

Mr. Harrison, who suffered cuts and bruises from the accident, testified that he didn't remember the events of that evening, including whether he was behind the wheel at the time of the accident.

Mr. Harrison had frequently driven the car, but Mr. Mercer had repeatedly expressed interest in driving it, according to testimony.

The case boiled down to the testimony of two expert witnesses -- Dr. Frank Peretti, a former state medical examiner who performed the autopsy, and Dr. Michael Perry, a trauma physician at Prince George's County Medical Center.

Dr. Peretti said Mr. Mercer's injuries -- including cuts from the shattered passenger window on the right side of his face --

showed he was a passenger.

But Dr. Perry told jurors that with the extent of the injuries to both men, there was no way of saying definitely who was riding where when the accident occurred.

Mr. Condry, the jury foreman, said every juror went into the jury room convinced of his or her position -- and then stuck to it through two secret ballot votes and two votes by show of hands taken between 11:30 a.m. and about 3:15 p.m.

"I think we were hung because the case depended on expert testimony. There wasn't anything else to decide it on," said Mr. Condry, 44, a Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. supervisor from Pasadena.

Mr. Harrison, a cabinetmaker, also faced charges of reckless driving and negligent driving in the case. He declined to comment after the jury returned.

Mr. Mercer's mother, Sharon L. Mercer, has filed a $5 million suit against Ms. Marshall on her son's behalf.

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