Suspect may lose 2nd lawyer

January 25, 1994|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff Writer

Marvin Philander Smith is having trouble keeping a lawyer.

The assistant public defender who first represented the 35-year-old man accused of murder withdrew from the case last fall after he was transferred to Baltimore County.

Yesterday, Mr. Smith's second assistant public defender told a Howard Circuit Court judge that he wants to withdraw from the case.

The attorney, Sam Truette, has a conflict of interest: Not only is he representing Mr. Smith, but he also is handling the criminal case of a man who may testify against the homicide suspect.

But Mr. Smith, who is being held at the Howard County Detention Center, shouldn't look for another public defender.

Howard's Chief Public Defender Carol Hanson said she expects to file court papers later this week asking the court to remove her office from handling both cases.

The office's attorneys regularly consult one another, so they all are aware of the conflict posed by the Smith case, Ms. Hanson explained.

"This is a close-knit office," she said. "We discuss cases constantly. . . . It happens on a daily basis."

A special hearing is set for Monday to determine how to handle Mr. Smith's case. Ms. Hanson said she will suggest the court appoint a private lawyer, paid by the county, to represent him.

The problems surrounding the case were outlined at a pretrial hearing yesterday for Mr. Smith, who is accused in the April 13 beating death of 38-year-old Vanessa Armstead of Baltimore.

Mr. Smith, of no fixed address, was arrested in North Carolina in June after eluding police for two months. He is accused of beating Ms. Armstead at the Rocky Gorge Reservoir in Scaggsville.

Mr. Smith, who did not speak at yesterday's hearing, could be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole if convicted of first-degree murder.

Court officials said Mr. Smith's trial, set for March 2, likely will be postponed if another attorney takes over.

At yesterday's hearing, Mr. Truette initially asked Judge Dennis Sweeney to dismiss all criminal counts -- including first-degree murder -- against Mr. Smith, charging police and prosecutors with misconduct.

He argued that police and prosecutors knew since Nov. 19 that an informant may be used as a witness against Mr. Smith, but they did not inform Mr. Truette until sending him a report containing the informant's statements on Jan. 13.

Senior Assistant State's Attorney Kate O'Donnell explained she did not get the report from police investigators until Dec. 27, while she was on vacation. When she returned, she said she made sure Mr. Truette got the report.

The report revealed Mr. Smith talked about his case with a fellow inmate, John Marvin Richardson, who also is represented by Mr. Truette.

Mr. Richardson, of Landover, was being held at the County Detention Center while awaiting trial on charges of robbery, assault and battery. He has since been released on his personal recognizance, pending his trial Wednesday.

Mr. Truette said Mr. Richardson talked to Mr. Smith at least three times since September and then informed investigators that he talked to Mr. Smith about the case.

The most recent conversation occurred Jan. 15, when Mr.

Richardson visited Mr. Smith at the detention center, Mr. Truette said.

MA Details of the conversations between the inmates were not dis

cussed at yesterday's hearing. However, Ms. O'Donnell noted that Mr. Smith said in one conversation that another man is responsible for Ms. Armstead's death.

Mr. Truette asserted that police investigators should have contacted him before interviewing Mr. Richardson about Mr. Smith's case.

He asked Judge Sweeney to prevent the prosecution from presenting Mr. Richardson and the information he provided to police at Mr. Smith's trial. The judge, however, denied the request.

Mr. Truette said he would be able to stay with the Smith case if the prosecution agrees not to use any of the information provided by Mr. Richardson.

But Ms. O'Donnell said she cannot promise she would not call Mr. Richardson as a witness at Mr. Smith's trial or use any of the leads he provided.

She suggested Mr. Truette stay with the Smith case and drop the Richardson case. That recommendation was unacceptable to the defense.

"This places me in an impossible position," Mr. Truette said. "It would put me in a position of having to cross-examine a client."

Judge Sweeney, while not making a decision to permit Mr. Truette to withdraw from the case, acknowledged his predicament posed by the Smith case.

"It's a bird's nest of a problem here," the judge said. "I don't see any way [Mr. Truette] can stay in it."

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