Man jailed 3 years wins retrial after judge rules his lawyer was incompetent

November 19, 1992|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff Writer

A Pasadena man who has spent the past three years in prison after pleading guilty to a murder he insists he did not commit has been granted a new trial.

Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Robert H. Heller Jr. overturned Bernard L. Ward Jr.'s 1989 first-degree murder conviction and the life sentence that followed.

Mr. Ward had blamed his decision to plead guilty to murder -- after all the evidence had been heard at trial but before the case had gone to the jury -- on the advice of what he called a lying, corrupt and incompetent defense attorney who had been outwitted during the abbreviated trial.

With a new lawyer, Mr. Ward went to court in July 1991 to seek a new trial. Attorney Frederic C. Heyman argued that Mr. Ward was not acting voluntarily and with assistance of competent counsel when he pleaded guilty to murdering Edward Eugene Brewer, a 25-year-old Baltimore man last seen alive in a gay bar in Baltimore.

Prosecutors said Mr. Ward's guilty plea was voluntarily and legally entered.

Mr. Ward entered an Alford plea, in which a defendant acknowledges sufficient evidence to convict him of the charge but does not admit guilt, in order to avoid a sentence of life in prison with no chance for parole. He was sentenced to life in prison.

In a 22-page order issued Friday -- more than a year after Mr. Ward first asked for a new trial -- Judge Heller noted that George Kariotis, Mr. Ward's first lawyer, did not object once during the trial. Furthermore, the judge found Mr. Kariotis' testimony during the hearing on Mr. Ward's motion for a new trial to be "incredible."

"This court finds that trial counsel's conduct so undermined the proper functioning of the adversarial process that the trial cannot be relied on as having produced a just result," the judge wrote. "Suspicions as to [Mr. Ward's] guilt or involvement in these crimes, even by this Court, is not sufficient to allow that which occurred at the trial to stand, as to do so would merely give lip service to constitutional rights provided those who are accused, including the right to effective assistance of counsel."

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