Second Basu trial to open Prosecution seeks death penalty in carjacking case

August 02, 1993|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff Writer

Rodney Eugene Solomon will walk into a Baltimore County courtroom today on trial for the Pam Basu carjacking murder already knowing what prosecutors will say about him.

His lawyers, well-acquainted with the testimony and evidence presented at the April trial of co-defendant Bernard Eric Miller, can be expected to pursue any prosecution weakness.

But that edge will be matched against a case that has already produced one conviction, and by Baltimore County's hard-nosed track record in capital cases, area lawyers say.

Mr. Solomon, 27, of Washington, faces the death penalty if convicted of first-degree murder in the Sept. 8, 1992, slaying of Dr. Basu. Prosecutors have called him the leader in a "partnership of crime."

Dr. Basu was forced from her BMW near her home in Savage. Her arm became tangled in a seat belt as she fought the carjackers, who sped off, dragging her two miles to her death.

Miller, 17, of Washington, was convicted by a Howard jury for his role in the slaying. He is serving a life sentence.

About 180 people are expected to be called for four days of jury selection, starting tomorrow. Trial testimony is to start Friday and will continue for at least two weeks.

"I really can't comment on what we're going to do," senior assistant state's attorney Michael Rexroad said. "We're preparing for the trial from beginning to end."

If the trial follows the pattern of the Miller case, the jury will hear from about 10 witnesses who watched the carjacking. Jurors will listen to police who took the defendant's fingerprints from the BMW, and will see a videotape made by Dr. Basu's husband that shows Mr. Solomon and Miller walking past the Basu home minutes before the incident.

Mr. Solomon's attorneys, public defenders Carol Hanson and Samuel Truette, could not be reached for comment.

Area lawyers say Mr. Solomon is likely to face a tougher court in Baltimore County, where jurors are traditionally more conservative than their Howard counterparts.

"I would get on my hands and knees and ask them to send me back to Howard County," said Philip Dantes, a Baltimore lawyer. Among his clients was Brian Jordan, a Guilford man convicted of murdering a Columbia woman but spared the death penalty by a Howard County jury in 1992.

"You couldn't be in a better place than Howard County in a death penalty case," he said.

In Howard, prosecutors have sought the death penalty seven times since Maryland reinstated it in 1978. Juries have rejected it each time.

Baltimore County juries, meanwhile, have issued the death sentence eight times in the past 15 years. Baltimore County judges have given seven death sentences in that time.

The highly publicized carjacking case was moved out of Howard County at Mr. Solomon's request -- a request granted automatically in death penalty cases. But his efforts to have the case moved a second time were rejected.

Several attorneys and law professors said Mr. Solomon's lawyers would be smart to concentrate on fighting the death penalty, rather than just fighting a conviction, during the trial.

With Mr. Solomon acknowledging his presence during the carjacking, about all prosecutors have to prove is that there was a murder to get a conviction, said Abraham Dash, a University of Maryland law professor.

Death penalty phase

"To a jury, there's no doubt at all there was a murder," he said. "I think personally in a case like this the defense counsel would be fighting like mad to beat the death penalty."

Mr. Dantes, the Baltimore lawyer, agreed. "You basically concede, in your own mind at least, that your client is going to be found overwhelmingly guilty . . . You direct your energy to the death-penalty phase."

During the trial, the attorneys may attempt to show through testimony and evidence that Mr. Solomon was not the primary actor during the carjacking -- a question jurors must answer when determining whether to sentence Mr. Solomon to death, Mr. Dantes said.

This is where statements Mr. Solomon gave to police might come in handy, Mr. Dantes said.

In some statements, Mr. Solomon told police he was present during the carjacking, but blamed Miller for the crime. "I was around. But I didn't do it," Mr. Solomon said in a taped interview played at a pretrial hearing. "He did it."

Inconsistencies cited

His attorneys already used a police statement, in which Miller admitted he was the driver of the car, in an unsuccessful effort to get a judge to block a possible death penalty.

Prosecutors maintain Mr. Solomon was the primary actor during the carjacking. They said they don't believe Miller because of inconsistencies in his statement to police.

Being the second defendant to go to trial can work both ways.

In some cases, evidence from the first trial can be so daunting that the defendant pleads guilty. That was what Francisco Rodriguez did after his fellow defendant, Eric Tirado, was convicted in the 1990 slaying of a state police trooper in Howard County.

In other cases, plea agreements are not a consideration.

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