Jeweler recounts his escape from car trunk for Carter jury

November 10, 1992|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff Writer

Douglas R. Legenhausen says he thought he was going to die after Dontay Carter forced him at gunpoint into the trunk of his car, but he drew on his experience as a jewelry designer to spring the latch and leap to safety on a city street.

The last witness called before the state rested its case yesterday in the East Baltimore teen-ager's murder trial, Mr. Legenhausen identified Carter as the man who kidnapped and robbed him Feb. 14 at the parking garage at the Harbor Park Cinema.

Mr. Legenhausen said he twice thought he was going to die, first when Carter opened the trunk while still in the garage and pointed a .38 revolver in his face and later when Carter drove out of the garage while he remained a captive in the trunk.

"I knew he was going to kill me next chance he got. I could just picture these deserted warehouses," Mr. Legenhausen, 47, testified.

Panicking in the darkness of the trunk, he managed to twist an inside light to cause it to flicker, allowing him to find a way to open the latch. He told jurors he followed an electrical wire and found a "plunger" that allowed him to open the trunk.

"I make things for a living. I know how things are made," the jewelry designer explained. "If you think about it, there has to be some mechanical advantage that allows you to open the trunk without breaking the key off."

He then described opening the trunk and jumping out as Carter slowed to take a turn. Within minutes, Carter was under arrest and Mr. Legenhausen was identifying him as his kidnapper.

Mr. Legenhausen testified yesterday over the objection of defense attorneys who had argued that jurors should not be told about his abduction. Carter, 19, is being tried for the Feb. 11 kidnapping and beating death of Vitalis V. Pilius.

Judge John N. Prevas ruled last month that Carter would face three separate trials in the Pilius slaying, the Legenhausen kidnapping and the Feb. 7 abduction of Dr. Daniel Ford, a Johns Hopkins Hospital physician.

Judge Prevas has allowed no mention of the doctor's kidnapping, but he said prosecutors could present testimony on the Legenhausen abduction to further their goal of identifying Carter as Mr. Pilius' killer and to explain to the jury the circumstances of his arrest.

Detective Kevin Davis testified last week that Carter confessed to kidnapping Mr. Legenhausen at the parking garage -- the same garage where prosecutors believe Carter had abducted Mr. Pilius three days earlier, on Feb. 11.

The jurors also have been told details of Carter's arrest. Officer Terry Love testified Friday that he was working plainclothes for the Eastern District drug enforcement unit Feb. 14 when he heard on the police radio about a man escaping from a car trunk -- and the police chase that followed.

Officer Love said he drove west on Madison Street and, after turning onto northbound Ensor Street, nearly ran over Carter with his car. He said got out of his car and chased the suspect, who held his hand in his right pocket as if armed, up Ensor Street.

With his own gun drawn, the officer said, "Stop or else I'm going to shoot," according to testimony. "That's when he raised his hands and slowed down and stopped," Officer Love said.

Back-up police arrived and, searching Carter, found a .38 revolver similar to the one described by Mr. Legenhausen, testimony showed.

Mr. Legenhausen said he got a good look at the gun from the car trunk when Carter, who had already stolen his wallet, opened the trunk and demanded his automatic teller machine card.

He said Carter pointed the gun at his head, adding: "I figured that's where he was going to kill me right there." Then, he said, Carter lowered the trunk so it was almost closed -- and stuck the barrel of the snub-nosed revolver through the narrow opening.

"That was the scariest time because I thought he might shoot me," he said. After testifying, Mr. Legenhausen said, "I sort of identify with Vito Pilius. If it was a different day it would have been my funeral."

He said the Pilius family knew of him before the kidnappings; he said he had made wedding rings for some of the family's friends.

Judge Prevas granted defense attorney John S. Deros until Thursday to prepare his case. The jury could begin deliberating Carter's fate by Friday, when Mr. Deros is expected to wrap up TTC the defense case.

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