Suspect's confession questioned

December 18, 1992|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff Writer

A Marriottsville man was the target of a carefully planned police interrogation designed to trigger him into confessing to his role in the death of his wife, his attorneys contended.

Lawyers for John Carroll Calhoun said that county prosecutors should not be allowed to use the confession at his trial because the police used deception to obtain it.

Howard Circuit Judge Dennis Sweeney considered the matter as the hearing -- which opened in October -- concluded yesterday. The judge said he will decide by Jan. 6 whether Mr. Calhoun's statements may be used against him.

Mr. Calhoun, 51, is charged with second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, assault with intent to murder, reckless endangerment, assault and battery. His trial is set for Jan. 11.

The defendant confessed to police investigators on June 6 that he kicked a ladder his wife was standing on, causing her to strike her head on scaffolding stacked outside their house, detectives testified.

He had denied any involvement in the death May 13 of his wife, 45-year-old Gladys Calhoun, during three previous police interviews, according to the detectives' testimony.

"Going into that house on June 6, they had an absolute necessity for a confession," argued Jonathan Scott Smith, a Towson attorney for Mr. Calhoun. "This was a planned, methodical mission."

But Assistant State's Attorney Kate O'Donnell dismissed the defense attorney's arguments, saying that he produced no evidence to support the theory.

"The statements obtained by the police from John Calhoun were freely and voluntarily made," Ms. O'Donnell argued. "He was controlling the information."

The prosecutor noted that the confession is supported by Mr. Calhoun's testimony during the hearing. The defendant admitted kicking the ladder and causing his wife to fall when he testified last month.

"It's proof positive," Ms. O'Donnell said. "If nothing else, it goes to support the credibility of the police officers."

Mr. Calhoun testified that he confessed to the crime after a detective told him he would only face misdemeanor charges for the incident.

During the 3 1/2 -hour interview, Mr. Calhoun also confessed that he was having an affair with a co-worker at the National Security Agency at Fort Meade. Mrs. Calhoun also worked at the agency.

Mr. Smith pointed to laws that prohibit police from using threats, promises or deception to get a suspect to confess to a crime.

He noted that the police department brought in Sam Bowerman, a Baltimore County police lieutenant who specializes in interrogations. Mr. Smith described Lieutenant Bowerman as "psychocop."

Lieutenant Bowerman and Howard detectives prepared a detailed outline of questions for the June 6 meeting to get Mr. Calhoun to confess, Mr. Smith contended.

The investigators also confronted Mr. Calhoun with a statement written by his wife saying that if she died unexpectedly, it would not be an accident. The detectives arranged to conduct the meeting at Mr. Calhoun's home on Thompson Drive, without any relatives present, Mr. Smith said.

"They wanted him near and at the scene of the tragedy," Mr. Smith said. "That would be an unspoken reminder."

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