Officer can't be retried in fatal shooting Retrial would constitute double jeopardy, judge rules

November 20, 1993|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer

Baltimore prosecutors cannot retry a city police officer for manslaughter in the shooting death of an unarmed 14-year-old boy suspected of car theft, a city Circuit Court judge ruled yesterday.

Ruling that a retrial would be a violation of double jeopardy protections, Judge Ellen M. Heller dismissed charges against Officer Edward T. Gorwell II, whose earlier case ended in mistrial after a juror was disqualified during deliberations.

"I feel very good about it," said Officer Gorwell, who was suspended from the police force without pay 12 days after the April 17 shooting.

"I just hope I can get my life together and get back to work."

Appearing at a news conference called by his lawyer, he said he felt "a great deal of happiness" when he learned of the judge's ruling.

Officer Gorwell was charged with shooting Simmont Donta Thomas while chasing him and three other youths suspected in a car theft through Leakin Park. The officer said he shot the

youth because he thought he had heard a gunshot. However, the boy was found unarmed.

After yesterday's ruling, Dennis Green, the boy's stepfather, said: "As far as I'm concerned, they just showed us black justice -- no justice at all."

Officer Gorwell is white and Simmont was black. The officer said he didn't know what he could say to the family, but remarked, "They have my sympathies."

Henry L. Belsky, a Fraternal Order of Police lawyer representing the police officer, would not say whether he expected prosecutors to appeal the judge's decision.

"This has been a very, very tough case for Officer Gorwell and a very expensive case for the FOP," Mr. Belsky said. "I think it's time to put this case to rest."

He said he considered the ruling "an acquittal," although the case ended before a jury was allowed to reach a verdict.

Several jurors told Officer Gorwell after the trial that the panel was leaning 8-4 toward acquittal before a mistrial was declared.

Mr. Belsky said he would demand backpay for the officer.

Officer Gorwell's trial ended abruptly when a juror failed to appear in court for the second day of deliberations and was dismissed from the jury by Judge Heller. After discussions with Judge Heller, prosecutors refused to proceed with an 11-member jury, although the officer's lawyers had agreed to go along with the smaller panel.

In yesterday's 24-page opinion, Judge Heller criticized prosecutors. She said they did not have a clear right to insist on a 12-member jury when the defendant was willing to be tried by a smaller jury.

"The state's refusal to go forward with less than a broad-based jury of 12 individuals at the conclusion of a long and expensive trial manifested a deliberate intent on its part to afford itself a more favorable opportunity to convict," she stated.

"The court also finds that a jury of less than 12 was a reasonable alternative."

Assistant State's Attorney Timothy J. Doory, the lead prosecutor in the case, could not be reached for comment.

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