Carter's friend testifies She tells of visit to downtown hotel

October 22, 1992|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff Writer

Melissa Venable rode the bus downtown yesterday to testify against her old friend Dontay Carter.

Taking the stand in the second day of the East Baltimore teen-ager's murder trial in Baltimore Circuit Court, Ms. Venable said she was in a 14th-floor room at the Omni Hotel with Carter on Feb. 13 -- two days after Vitalis V. Pilius was last seen alive. She said Carter left the room less than five minutes before police barged in. She hinted that he had been warned of their arrival.

"Two guys had come to the door. They had called before," the 18-year-old Northeast Baltimore woman said. She was unable to elaborate.

Ms. Venable was one of three witnesses presented yesterday by the state in a bid to link Carter to three rooms rented at the downtown hotel in Mr. Pilius' name. Police were called after the victim's brother-in-law reported seeing the occupants of Mr. Pilius' missing company car enter the hotel.

Denise M. Hill, a desk clerk, identified Carter as the man who used a credit card and driver's license in Mr. Pilius' name to rent the rooms. Farrell Ray Harleston, an assistant director of housekeeping who was acting as the hotel "lobby lizard," or manager assigned to watch the lobby, said he was sure Carter was the man who walked out of an elevator minutes before police arrived.

"He said what the 'F' are you looking at?" Mr. Harleston said, paraphrasing to avoid using profanity before the jury. "When someone says those kind of words you look them in the eye."

Carter, 19, is charged with abducting Mr. Pilius in the parking garage at the Harbor Park Cinema and beating the 37-year-old father of four from Catonsville to death with a metal pole. He faces life in prison with no chance for parole if convicted. He is also charged in two other abductions as part of a February crime spree, but Judge John N. Prevas ruled Carter would receive separate trials on the offenses.

Ms. Venable said she was not nervous testifying against a man she described as a "close friend."

"He was looking at me the whole time. He wasn't mad. He was just smiling," she said, adding she abhors Carter's alleged crimes but still considers him a friend.

Asked during a break in the trial to comment on an old friend testifying against him, Carter said: "She comes to see me every week. It's nothing new."

Ms. Venable said she became close friends with Carter in East Baltimore when she was 15. She noted Carter disappeared from the neighborhood for 2 1/2 years -- the jury was not told Carter was in prison for theft and weapons violations -- before she saw him again Feb. 12.

She said Carter and Damien "Day Day" Daniels, who was charged with Carter in another kidnapping, picked her up at her home in the 3700 block of The Alameda the next day. Carter then drove the victim's company car through Clifton Park before picking up another friend and heading to the Omni, she said. Her account seemed to mesh with the testimony of Baltimore police Officer Robert Alexander. The officer told the jury he ran a check on the Mercury Sable station wagon, found it was not stolen and stopped following it -- only to hear five minutes later on a citywide police radio broadcast that the car was missing.

When the trial resumes today, prosecutors are expected to call to the stand witnesses to Carter's travels around town before he was apprehended. In that vein, testimony concluded yesterday with Terry Moore, a rental car clerk at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Mr. Moore said he rejected Carter's attempt to rent a car with Mr. Pilius' credit card. "To me, the name seemed like a Greek name," he said. "In my mind I said, 'I never saw a black Greek before.' "

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