Ready for trial, at last Delays in cases worry prosecutors

March 28, 1993|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Staff Writer

Time may heal wounds, but it can be a police detective or a prosecutor's worst enemy.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys say the more time that passes between when an offense is committed and when someone is charged and brought to trial, the more difficult it is to win a conviction.

"Generally, you worry about witnesses' memories fading. The longer that time goes by, the harder it is for people to remember what went on, and sometimes that can make for problems," said Anne Arundel State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee.

Delays can lead to vanishing witnesses and dismissal of charges. They also can hurt criminal investigations, where the passing of time not only plays tricks on memory, but can hide or erase evidence and push a case out of the public eye.

That concern is foremost in the minds of prosecutors and police these days.

Even as county police continue to search for the killer of Lisa Haenel, the 14-year-old Glen Burnie girl whose body was found two months ago, prosecutors are preparing for three major trials with defendants charged months or years after the offense:

* Albert Gustav Givens, a 38-year-old handyman from Annapolis, is scheduled to go on trial April 6 in the killing of 55-year-old Marlene Kilpatrick, an Arnold woman who had hired Mr. Givens to do yardwork. Mrs. Kilpatrick's body was found in her home Jan. 2, 1992. Mr. Givens was charged July 31, nearly eight months after the body was found with a knife in the chest. Jury selection is slated to begin Thursday.

* Mark John Loetz, 32, of Arnold was charged Nov. 5 in the slaying of 15-year-old Kathy Grant of Pasadena. The victim was found near a dumping site off West Pasadena Road on Jan. 29, 1989. She had been beaten to death with a blunt object. No trial date has been set.

* Brothers Norman S. Marriott Jr., 52, of Mount Pleasant Mills, Pa., and Edward R. Marriott, 50, of Bigfork, Mont., are charged with sexually abusing their daughters in weekend visits to the victims' grandmother in Glen Burnie in 1980 and 1981. Prosecutors say the victims, now in their late 20s and early 30s, came forward when they learned that their fathers were living in houses with young stepchildren.

Norman Marriott is scheduled to be tried Thursday. His brother's trial is scheduled for April 27.

There is no statute of limitations on felonies in Maryland, so sexual child abuse charges can be filed any time after the offense.

The state is required to bring a case to trial within 180 days of the defendant's initial appearance before a judge. But defense attorneys can always request postponements.

Many times, defendants charged in District Court will ask for a jury trial, so their cases must be transferred to Circuit Court, which adds to the delay.

The county's one-day jury trial system, put into effect May 26, has sped up the trial process. But there can still be delays of weeks, months or years; in the meantime, witnesses may die, relocate or become more reluctant to testify.

Charges against Edward E. Stillman Jr., 40, of the 200 block of W. Meadow Road, Baltimore, were dropped when prosecutors had trouble locating witnesses in a 2-year-old case.

Mr. Stillman said he was innocent when he was charged Nov. 13, 1988, with the felony theft of some coins and jewelry from a Ferndale home about two months before.

According to court records, Mr. Stillman failed to appear for his initial trial in District Court on March 22, 1989. A series of postponements followed; on June, 1, 1990, he requested a jury trial, which sent the case to Circuit Court.

A jury trial was scheduled for Sept. 14, but no juries were available, so the case was again postponed.

By the time it came up for trial, April 24, 1991, the state's attorney had trouble getting a key witness, who had been hospitalized, to appear and testify.

The charges were dismissed.

Anne Arundel Assistant State's Attorney John LeCornu is reviewing

a case, slated for Circuit Court trial May 5, in which the victim of a series of 1991 assaults is dead.

Joan K. Warrington, 33, of the 100 block of Oak Ave., Glen Burnie, was fatally shot by police officers at Woodlawn Drive and Whitehead Road in Woodlawn on Jan. 21.

Ms. Warrington had apparently pointed a loaded, .25-caliber automatic handgun at a Baltimore County police officer after other officers ordered her companion, Jeffrey Lee Ward, out of his car, police said.

The day before the shooting, Keith B. Howard was found guilty in District Court of assaulting Ms. Warrington. He has since appealed the conviction to Circuit Court.

Mr. LeCornu said he is inclined to prosecute, although finding any state witnesses may be difficult.

"The question is, does the state have an interest in going forward? These charges demonstrate such a propensity for violence and criminal behavior on the part of the defendant, and this case is an opportunity to do something about it."

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