Mistrial declared in Pilius case Alleged accomplice could be retried

December 30, 1992|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff Writer

A jury considering the fate of Dontay Carter's accused accomplice in the kidnapping and beating death of Vitalis V. Pilius announced yesterday that it was unable to reach a decision, leading the judge overseeing the monthlong proceedings to declare a mistrial.

After deliberating for 22 hours over four days, the Baltimore Circuit Court jury found 17-year-old Clarence Woodward not guilty of first-degree murder but said it was unable to reach verdicts on charges of felony murder and manslaughter. Several jurors said afterward that they were split 9-3 in favor of conviction on the felony murder charge.

The jury's failure to reach verdicts on felony murder and manslaughter, as well as kidnapping, armed robbery and two counts of conspiracy, leaves open the possibility for another trial on those charges. Prosecutor Vickie L. Wash, visibly disappointed by the jury's decision, said afterward that it was too soon to say whether Mr. Woodward would be tried again.

The defendant stood with his hands folded as the jury said it had also found him not guilty on a deadly weapon charge but was unable to reach verdicts on charges of kidnapping, armed robbery and conspiracy. As correctional officers led him away in handcuffs to await a possible retrial, Mr. Woodward, who faced a possible sentence of life in prison without parole if convicted, smiled and said, "I'm just happy it's working out a little bit for me."

Charged as an adult in the slaying of the father of four from Catonsville, Mr. Woodward went on trial Nov. 30 -- less than two weeks after Carter, 19, was found guilty of first-degree murder, kidnapping, armed robbery and conspiracy.

The jury of seven men and five women weighing Mr. Woodward's fate began deliberating Dec. 18. The panel also met Dec. 21 and 22 to consider the case before being excused until yesterday for the Christmas holiday.

During the trial and deliberations, the jurors passed to Judge John N. Prevas notes containing more than 100 questions. In response to some of those questions the jury was called into the courtroom to hear a court stenographer read transcripts of several hours of trial testimony.

After deliberating for seven hours yesterday, the jury sent down a note saying it had reached verdicts on two counts but was deadlocked on the other charges. The jury announced its verdicts at 5:45 p.m. to a courtroom devoid of spectators save for one woman who had sat as an alternate juror during the trial. Mr. Pilius' relatives, who were present throughout the Carter trial and for much of the Woodward trial, were not present. Judge Prevas declared a mistrial on the unresolved counts.

During the trial, prosecutors played to the jurors a tape recording of the suspect speaking to police after his arrest. Mr. Woodward told police he was present when Carter approached the victim in the parking garage at the Harbor Park Cinema and abducted him at gunpoint and then used a pole to beat him to death in a vacant East Baltimore rowhouse.

The defendant took the witness stand to say he and Martin Parker, a prosecution witness, were shocked to see Carter abduct the man. He said he rode along during the search for a place to kill Mr. Pilius because he was afraid Carter would kill him if he fled, and he denied taking part in the beating.

Juror Dawn B. England, who said she voted to convict Mr. Woodward of felony murder, explained, "I believed he actually participated in the robbery and the kidnapping."

John D. Clark, a 48-year-old social worker who said he held out for an acquittal on the felony murder charge, said some jurors were unwilling to give too much weight to Mr. Woodward's statement to police because officers began the interview by saying they were investigating a robbery -- and did not say they were looking into an apparent murder.

Mr. Clark said the teen-ager should have been allowed to call his mother, and he criticized police for not eliciting more detailed answers on the suspect's involvement with Carter in the kidnapping and slaying.

"In any situation like this there are no winners. The family of Mr. Pilius suffered. That was always on our minds," Mr. Clark said. "Our finding for two not-guilty verdicts did not indicate we did not feel for Mr. Pilius."

Mr. Clark, who is black, also noted that the jury of 10 blacks and two whites did not split along racial lines.

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