Conflicting stories mark start of carjacking trial Solomon didn't kill Basu, defense says

August 06, 1993|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff Writer

A Baltimore County jury heard conflicting stories yesterday about the Washington man alleged to be the driver of the car that dragged Pam Basu to her death.

The prosecution said Rodney Eugene Solomon was behind the wheel of Dr. Basu's car, but Mr. Solomon's lawyers blamed his 17-year-old companion for the slaying.

A Circuit Court jury heard both versions during the first day of testimony in the trial of Mr. Solomon. The 27-year-old faces the death penalty if convicted of first-degree murder and 18 other counts for the Sept. 8, 1992, slaying.

The incident occurred near Dr. Basu's home in Savage in Howard County, but Mr. Solomon's trial was moved to Baltimore County.

His companion, Bernard Eric Miller of Washington, is serving a life sentence for his role in the slaying. He was convicted in Howard County Circuit Court in April.

Assistant Public Defender Samuel Truette told the jury of nine women and three men during his opening statement that Mr. Solomon never intended to kill Dr. Basu, only to steal her BMW sedan.

"He didn't expect it to happen and he did not have control of the events," he said. "It was Bernard Miller that operated the car that dragged Pam Basu to her death."

Mr. Truette said the defense will introduce statements Miller gave to police saying that he was the driver of Dr. Basu's car. The attorney added that a witness will testify to support the statement.

But prosecutors have attempted to discredit Miller's statement, noting that he gave investigators several contradictory statements after his arrest.

Mr. Truette said before testimony started that Miller may be called as a defense witness. Miller's attorney, Laurack Bray of Washington, who was present during opening statements, said he will advise his client against testifying.

Senior Assistant State's Attorney Michael Rexroad used his opening statement to give the jury details of the carjacking and two unsuccessful attempted carjackings before the defendants confronted Dr. Basu.

The prosecutor told the jurors they will hear from Dr. Basu's husband, Biswanath "Steve" Basu, who will testify that he saw Mr. Solomon and Miller walk by his home as his wife loaded their daughter into the BMW to take her to her first day of nursery school.

Dr. Basu, a 33-year-old research scientist, was forced from her sedan at an intersection near her home by Mr. Solomon and Miller, Mr. Rexroad said. The men repeatedly struck her and then forced her out of the car.

"Rodney Solomon is in the driver's seat. Bernard Miller is in the passenger seat. They begin to drive away," Mr. Rexroad said.

Dr. Basu reached in the car to rescue her 22-month-old daughter in the back seat of the vehicle, but her left arm became entangled in a seat belt, Mr. Rexroad said. She screamed for her daughter as she was face to face with Mr. Solomon.

Mr. Solomon stopped to drop Dr. Basu's daughter along the road, but he and Miller did not free Dr. Basu from the car, Mr. Rexroad said.

Mr. Rexroad said the prosecution will introduce fingerprints from Mr. Solomon found on the driver's side of the car to show that Mr. Solomon was the driver. But Mr. Truette told the jury that the prints were found only on the outside of the car.

Mr. Truette said that after Miller drove the car into a barbed-wire fence, Mr. Solomon took over as the driver because he feared an accident. Mr. Rexroad said Mr. Solomon purposely drove into the fence to dislodge the body from the car.

In testimony, Grace Lagana of Laurel identified Mr. Solomon as one of the two men who attempted to steal her Chrysler LeBaron after she arrived at her former job at the rest area along Interstate 95. She had identified Miller as the other assailant at his trial. She said Mr. Solomon threatened to shoot her if she didn't hand over her keys, but he never showed a gun.

The men fled after they couldn't get the car to start and a man came to help her, Ms. Lagana said.

Laura Becraft of North Laurel testified that Mr. Solomon also threatened to shoot her when he, backed up by Miller, demanded the keys to her minivan.

When she refused and threatened to get the police, she testified, the men fled.

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