Rape trial opens with defense claiming mistaken identity

December 03, 1992|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Staff Writer

An attorney for a 33-year-old man accused of raping an Ellicott City woman almost two years ago portrayed his client as a victim of mistaken identity as his trial opened yesterday.

Michael Devon Armstead, a former railroad worker, is on trial in Howard County Circuit Court on charges of first-degree rape, first-degree sex offense, burglary and robbery in the Jan. 29, 1991, attack of a Waverly Woods Drive resident.

If convicted, he could receive a maximum life sentence. He is currently serving five life sentences for rapes in Anne Arundel County. The trial is expected to last two weeks.

Assistant State's Attorney Kate O'Donnell told the jury she plans to use DNA evidence to link Armstead's blood samples to semen taken from the rape victim. She said "the likelihood that another black person having the same DNA as Michael Armstead . . . was one in 480 million."

Ms. O'Donnell also said she plans to link Fila tennis shoes owned by Armstead to two Fila footprints found outside the woman's home.

But during opening statements, Louis Willemin, Armstead's public defender, said, "Michael Armstead is not the person who commited that crime. It's simply a case of mistaken identity."

He added that his client's shoe size doesn't match the one found outside the house.

The victim, a 30-year-old receptionist, identified Armstead in the courtroom as the man who lunged at her in her foyer during the attack.

The victim testified that she had been watching television that night, when she heard a noise and went to investigate. Her attacker, who entered the house through a garage window, grabbed her as she entered the foyer. He asked for jewelry and money, but she told him she didn't have any, she testified.

At one point they went into the kitchen, where she showed him that she had only $2, she testified. She said he wasn't interested in her credit cards and became "ticked off."

While in the kitchen, she said, she got a good look at the man, although a pantyhose covered his face. She described him as a black man about 6 feet tall, lanky, who had freckles on his cheeks. She said that his speech was clear and that he did not appear to be on drugs or alcohol.

The woman testified that when she and her attacker returned to the front of the house, he forced her to perform a sex act while choking her.

She said he threatened to kill her if she resisted.

Then he raped her, she said. "I just couldn't believe it was happening," she said, crying. "It was my worst nightmare come true."

After the rape, the attacker made her get dressed, tied her hands behind her back with duct tape and made her go outside, she testified. He fled and she went to a neighbor's home to call police, she said.

Ms. O'Donnell pointed out that when Armstead was caught by police March 1, 1991, in Linthicum during a possible attempted break-in, pantyhose and a roll of duct tape were near him under shrubbery.

During cross-examination, Mr. Willemin questioned the victim several times about her ability to get a good look at the attacker since his face was covered and the house was dark except for the light from the television.

Armstead, who tried to get a delay in the case Tuesday until he could get a suit to wear, appeared in court yesterday in a brown suit and tie.

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