A Washington man charged in the Pam Basu carjacking murder should not face the death penalty because the Howard state's attorney's office used "prosecutorial manipulation" to advance its case, his lawyers say.
Attorneys for Rodney Eugene Solomon contend that prosecutors withheld statements from a co-defendant -- who claimed to have been driving Dr. Basu's stolen car as the woman was dragged to death -- to strengthen the case against their client.
"The [prosecutors] chose to withhold this confession as part of its design to make the case against Mr. Solomon 'a death case,' " Public Defender Carol Hanson said in documents filed in Baltimore County Circuit Court.
Ms. Hanson also contends that prosecutors sent letters to potential witnesses warning them against cooperating with defense attorneys.
Ms. Hanson declined to comment further on the allegations.
Senior Assistant State's Attorney Michael Rexroad said that Ms. Hanson's allegations were "utterly without merit." He noted that Mr. Solomon's co-defendant, Bernard Eric Miller, gave conflicting statements to police, saying Mr. Solomon was the driver and also describing himself as the driver.
Ms. Hanson, the lead defense attorney, makes the assertions in an effort to block a possible death penalty if her client is convicted.
The motion to strike the death penalty is among eight motions Ms. Hanson filed Tuesday. The hearing on the motions is Monday.
Ms. Hanson also is seeking to get her client's trial moved to another county. The case has already been moved from Howard to neighboring Baltimore County. Changes of venue are automatically granted in death-penalty cases on a defendant's first request.
Mr. Solomon, 27, is scheduled to stand trial on Aug. 2 for 19 counts, including first-degree murder, for the Sept. 8 slaying of Dr. Basu and two failed attempts at stealing other cars.
Mr. Rexroad said he expects his office to file responses to Ms. Hanson's motions tomorrow. "We are going to oppose all motions," he said.
In arguments against the death penalty, Ms. Hanson claims prosecutors knew that statements by Miller, the co-defendant, were consistent with those by Mr. Solomon, but chose not to disclose them during Miller's trial.
Miller, 17, of Washington, was sentenced to life in prison last month after his conviction for felony murder. Prosecutors were prohibited under state law from seeking the death penalty against Miller because he is a juvenile.
Ms. Hanson included a 19-page transcript of an interview police had with Miller after his arrest.
In the statement, Miller says he started driving Dr. Basu's car after Mr. Solomon pulled her from it at an intersection near her Savage home. Miller told police he drove the BMW sedan as the woman was dragged for nearly two miles, after her arm became entangled in a seat belt. Mr. Solomon later took over the steering wheel after freeing Dr. Basu's body.
But Mr. Rexroad dismissed the statement. "It is only one of numerous statements Bernard Miller gave to police," Mr. Rexroad said. "His statements are totally contradictory." Witnesses at Miller's trial testified that they saw a youth fitting Miller's description getting into the passenger side after the carjacking.
The prosecution did not use any of Miller's statement at his trial.
Ms. Hanson says in court papers that the prosecution's efforts to seek the death penalty are based on the public's outcry over the carjacking, rather than the merits of the case.
In an effort to get a second change of venue, Ms. Hanson argues that it is impossible for Mr. Solomon to get a fair trial because Baltimore County residents have been subjected to the same "prejudicial pretrial publicity" as Howard residents.