Judge won't move carjack trial

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

A Washington youth charged in the carjacking death of a Savage woman will stand trial in Howard, despite efforts by his attorney to get the case moved to another county.

Circuit Judge Dennis Sweeney ruled yesterday that 17-year-old Bernard Eric Miller has not proved that he cannot get a fair and impartial trial in Howard.

Judge Sweeney said in the ruling that the defendant's concern that he will face a prejudiced jury can be addressed at the time of his trial, when defense attorneys and prosecutors question potential jurors to determine if they are biased.

"It is not presumed that an unbiased jury cannot be had," Judge Sweeney said in the nine-page ruling.

Judge Sweeney also struck down another defense argument, which cited a law permitting some defendants who face the death penalty to have the trial moved to another county.

The judge said the law does not apply to the youth since he is a juvenile and juveniles cannot receive the death penalty.

Bernard Miller faces first-degree murder and 18 other charges for the slaying of Dr. Pam Basu, who was dragged for about two miles to her death after thieves forced her from her car on Sept. 8.

His attorney, Laurack Bray of Washington, argued earlier this week that a town meeting after Dr. Basu's death, news media attention and police-sponsored workshops on carjackings have prejudiced county residents who are potential jurors.

The attorney noted that many of the 450 people who attended the town meeting "clapped and cheered" in support of the death penalty for the defendants.

But Assistant State's Attorney Joseph Murtha said the trial attracted national attention, and moving it would be inappropriate.

He presented Judge Sweeney with stories about the carjacking that appeared in more than 30 clippings from newspapers and magazines, including the Prince George's Journal, Time and Newsweek.

The prosecutor said he is pleased by the judge's ruling.

"In light of the arguments presented in court, we believe this is the just result," Mr. Murtha said.

Mr. Bray could not be reached for comment.

A co-defendant, 26-year-old Rodney Eugene Soloman of Washington, has not filed a motion for a change of venue.

Both defendants are scheduled for separate trials on Feb. 22.

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