Gorwell mistrial is declared jurors leaned toward acquittal

August 10, 1993|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff Writer Staff writers JoAnna Daemmrich, Gregory P. Kane and Roger Twigg contributed to this article.

The jury in Baltimore Police Officer Edward T. Gorwell II's manslaughter trial was leaning toward acquittal when a judge declared a mistrial yesterday, jurors said.

Baltimore Circuit Judge Ellen M. Heller's decision to abort the trial of a police officer charged in the shooting death of a 14-year-old boy capped an extraordinary series of events both in and out of the courtroom.

First, juror Malcolm Boykin took the witness stand to explain why he failed to show up Friday, interrupting the jury's deliberations on a verdict and ultimately leading to yesterday's mistrial.

Mr. Boykin explained that he spent Thursday night and part of Friday in his car, drinking bourbon, because he was afraid to tell his wife that muggers had stolen the family's rent money.

Judge Heller then dismissed the juror -- who was later found in contempt of court and fined $500 -- and asked if both sides would allow the remaining 11 jurors to decide the officer's fate.

Officer Gorwell, through his lawyer, tentatively agreed to that plan.

But prosecutor Timothy J. Doory refused to go along, a stance the judge said left her "dismayed and perplexed" and with no option but to declare a mistrial.

When it was over, several jurors shook hands with Officer Gorwell in a courthouse hallway and told him the panel had been split 8-4 in favor of a not-guilty verdict before the deliberations were disrupted.

"They were just wishing me the best of luck and they were disappointed they weren't going to reach a verdict," said Officer Gorwell, who added that he was frustrated that a mistrial had been declared.

The 24-year-old officer, who faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted, said he wasn't surprised that the jury was split in favor of acquittal, explaining, "The public wants the police out patrolling the streets. They don't want us prosecuted."

Mr. Doory, the prosecutor, said Officer Gorwell will probably be tried again. A Nov. 29 trial date was set.

Defense lawyer Henry L. Belsky termed the specter of a second trial "grossly unfair."

"It's not Ed Gorwell's fault it was a mistrial. We chose to go ahead and they chose not to go ahead," said the defense lawyer, who also noted that his client remains on unpaid suspension from the Police Department.

"If there had been an 11-person jury we're confident it would've been not guilty," he said.

"This wasn't a tactical decision," said Mr. Doory. The prosecutor said he did not agree to go forward with a panel of 11 because nearly a week had passed since testimony ended in the trial and the missing juror saga presented an "incredible distraction" to the remaining jurors.

"This is going to be a difficult verdict for some segment of society to accept so it was important to have a clean and complete jury," he added.

Controversy

The case has been riddled with controversy since shortly after Officer Gorwell shot Simmont Donta Thomas in the back as the youth fled from a stolen car into the darkness at the edge of West Baltimore's Gwynns Falls Park early April 17.

The parents of the slain youth complained that police told them 11 hours after the shooting that their son had been arrested and taken to a juvenile detention center. They said they did not learn about the boy's death until they called the state medical examiner's office.

When the officer was arraigned on the manslaughter charge, the parents, along with a group dubbed the Simmont Thomas Justice Committee, marched in front of the courthouse to say the officer should have been charged with murder.

Yesterday, Dennis Green, the slain youth's stepfather, speculated that Mr. Boykin had been threatened. But he did not complain about the mistrial, largely because he held out no great hope that Officer Gorwell would be convicted.

"I felt since deliberations started it might be a hung jury," Mr. Green said. "Gorwell was protected by the badge in the first place. The badge saved him."

During the trial, Officer Gorwell testified that he believed he was returning fire when he shot the youth.

Prosecutors presented witnesses who reported hearing only one shot. Five of Officer Gorwell's Western District colleagues also testified he never mentioned that he had been fired on when they arrived at the park after the shooting.

Juror Renee Zubin, who said she was among the eight who had voted for acquittal, said she believes that the officer is probably lying but that she held enough "reasonable doubt" on the matter to prevent her from voting to convict.

"Everyone felt like he was doing his job," she added. Another juror, Joanne Lutz, told a television reporter, "I believe that he heard the shot."

Several other jurors refused to comment on the deliberations.

Raucous debate

The jury deliberated 4 1/2 hours Thursday. At times, the debate became raucous enough to be heard in the courtroom through the thick wooden door of the jury room. A man could be heard shouting.

Ms. Zubin said that voice belonged to Juror No. 2 -- Mr. Boykin.

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