Wrong Change of Venue HOWARD COUNTY

August 03, 1993

Although the trial of Rodney Eugene Solomon is just beginning, one verdict is in: Defense attorneys made a tactical error when they asked that his trial be moved outside of Howard County.

Granted, Mr. Solomon faces formidable odds no matter where the trial is held. The 27-year-old Washington man is charged with last fall's carjacking and murder of Pam Basu, one of the most gruesome crimes this region has seen in recent years. Last Sept. 8, two men shoved Dr. Basu out of her car at a Savage intersection, with her baby daughter inside. Dr. Basu's arm became tangled in a seat belt, and she was dragged nearly two miles to her death. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. The other man charged in the murder, Bernard Eric Miller, was convicted by a Howard jury earlier this summer and is serving a life sentence.

In requesting a change of venue, Mr. Solomon's legal counsel didn't gain much advantage; in fact, Baltimore County's track record on death penalty sentences is more conservative than Howard County's. In the last 15 years, Baltimore County juries have issued the death sentence eight times, and county judges have rendered seven death sentences in that period. In Howard, by contrast, juries have rejected a death sentence each of the seven times prosecutors have sought it since Maryland reinstated the death penalty in 1978.

Area defense attorneys seem to view Howard as a liberal haven where capital crimes are concerned. Said Baltimore attorney Philip Dantes, commenting on the Solomon trial: "I would get on my hands and knees and ask them to send me back to Howard County. You couldn't be in a better place than Howard County in a death penalty case."

The case does raise interesting questions about how changes of venue are handled. Moving a trial because of the publicity generated by the case is standard, accepted practice. But a fair trial is not necessarily achieved by simply moving the hearing to a neighboring county. In this instance, the entire Baltimore metro market -- covered by the same newspaper and radio and TV stations -- was blanketed with stories about the Basu case; Baltimore County was no more insulated than Howard County. If a change of venue was deemed appropriate, moving the trial to the next county in the same media market didn't seem to achieve that.

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