Missing witness leads to dropped murder charges Whereabouts unknown since May 25

June 14, 1993|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff Writer

He said he saw it all, said he was on that Pimlico street corner when they gunned down the teen-ager for refusing to pay a drug debt.

But when the murder trial was set to begin last Monday in Baltimore Circuit Court, Shawn Dorsey was a no-show. Prosecutors, who with the defense lawyers had spent more than four days questioning a pool of nearly 500 registered voters before picking a jury, dropped all charges against four defendants, accused of first-degree murder.

No eyewitness, no case.

Baltimore State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms was asked Thursday whether Mr. Dorsey is still alive.

"No one has confirmed for sure and we're certainly hopeful, but all indications are the witness is alive and we'll have the opportunity to talk with him about what has to be a difficult and unfortunate decision," said Mr. Simms -- who refused to confirm Mr. Dorsey is the missing witness.

Notwithstanding the prosecutor's reluctance, court records and sources outside the state's attorney's office make it clear Mr. Dorsey is the witness who apparently got cold feet -- or, perhaps, has suffered a worse fate. One court document shows he was last heard from on May 25. Jury selection began two days later.

Besides illustrating the challenges facing city prosecutors who sometimes must deal with witnesses in fear for their safety, Mr. Dorsey's disappearance effectively brought to an end the case of State of Maryland vs. Carlo "Lil' Man" Heath, Shawn "Shawn P" Pressly, Terrence Miles and Steven "Fat Cat" Oglesby. The four defendants range in age from 18 to 22.

Having been held in lieu of bail for nearly a year while awaiting trial, all four were released last Monday, according to Baltimore City Detention Center records.

The charges against them stemmed from the May 11, 1992, death of 16-year-old Michael "Mike-Mike" Hope. The teen-ager was found shot dead near the corner of Delaware and Virginia avenues in Northwest Baltimore. An autopsy revealed that he died of a shotgun wound to the head and another gunshot wound to a kidney.

Within a month police had arrested their suspects. A witness told police Mr. Oglesby ordered two associates to "bust" the victim because of an unpaid debt, according to court records. Police have said Mr. Oglesby controlled a Pimlico drug corner with some of his companions in a rap group known as YBM -- Young Black Mafia.

The witness said Mr. Miles handed a gun to Mr. Pressly who, along with Mr. Heath, shot the teen-ager, according to court records.

Prosecutors initially obtained a protective order from the Circuit Court allowing them to withhold the names of witnesses but on May 11, as the trial approached, Chief Judge Robert I. H. Hammerman ordered the names released to the defense attorneys. He also said the attorneys could meet with the state's witnesses, but that the defendants themselves were not to be told the names until one day before the start of the trial.

Michael D. Montemarano, a private attorney hired by the public defender's office to represent Mr. Heath, said the defense attorneys met with Mr. Dorsey, whom he described as being in his 20s, but the witness would not talk.

Leslie A. Stein, who represented Mr. Pressly, said, "In the motion for protective order there is always the suspicion from a defense advocacy point of view that the motion is being filed disingenuously and the real reason is to insulate the witness from defense scrutiny until the very last moment. . . . The thing that's troubling about the protective order in this case was there was never any evidence the witnesses were threatened."

'Material witness'

Laura I. Shach, the assistant state's attorney assigned to the case, agreed there were no threats.

"The protective order was because of the dangerousness of the drug organization," she said, "and he [the witness] knew who they were and they knew who he was."

On May 27, the scheduled trial date, prosecutors obtained a "body attachment," which is a warrant allowing authorities to arrest and hold Mr. Dorsey as a "necessary and material witness." The court papers seeking the body attachment state that Shawn Dorsey would have testified that he was present during the fatal shooting and would name the four defendants as the killers.

The court record goes on to say that prior to May 25 the witness remained in contact with Bertina Silver, a city police homicide detective who was the primary investigator in the case. But after his final contact with the detective through her beeper on May 25, the witness "has not made other contact, nor has he been back to his hotel per police investigation," the document states.

Dropped cases

Mr. Simms, the city prosecutor, said about six cases a year are dropped because of concerns about witness "security issues." Considering the office contends with about 20,000 defendants a year, it's a small percentage, he said.

Mr. Simms said his office's $30,000 budget for lodging and travel expenses for witness protection should, at the least, be doubled.

Homicide detectives said yesterday that authorities still have not heard from Mr. Dorsey.

"I believe he's still alive," Detective Silver said. "I believe if something were wrong . . . his family would know and they would tell us."

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