2 recant testimony in retrial

February 03, 1994|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Sun Staff Writer

The second murder trial of Bernard L. Ward took a bizarre twist yesterday when two prosecution witnesses recanted statements to police that Mr. Ward knew the victim.

Prosecutors had hoped to use the witnesses' testimony against Mr. Ward because he has denied knowing Edward Brewer, the 25-year-old Baltimore man whose naked body was found in an abandoned house along Crain Highway Dec. 12, 1988.

Lea Beth, a Baltimore bartender, and Ernest Bensley, a tavern disc jockey, both testified that though Mr. Brewer and Mr. Ward traveled in the same social circles, they could not say definitively that the two men knew each other.

"I can't sit here and say I ever remember seeing them together," said Ms. Beth, adding that the two men had frequented the bar on Cathedral Street where she worked in the 1980s.

Mr. Bensley said Mr. Ward had been his lighting technician when he was a disc jockey at the Hotline, a gay tavern in Baltimore that Mr. Brewer frequented. But that was all he knew about the two men, he said.

"I can't say I ever saw them together," he said.

Both testified yesterday with the jury excused from the courtroom.

A few minutes after the jurors left, Anne Arundel County police Detective David Harp took the stand to say the two witnesses had changed their stories and were now lying.

Detective Harp, who reopened the case after Mr. Ward's first conviction was overturned in 1992, said Ms. Beth told him in January 1989 that she had seen the defendant and victim together numerous times.

Mr. Bensley was just as sure that Mr. Ward knew Mr. Brewer when the detective interviewed him nine months later, Detective Harp testified.

"He told me that Bernie and Eddie were pretty 'tight.' That was his word," Detective Harp said.

Assistant State's Attorney William C. Mulford II said last night that he is unsure whether he will call Ms. Beth and Mr. Bensley to testify.

Mr. Ward was arrested in Tallahassee, Fla., four days after Mr. Brewer's body was found. He confessed and pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, cutting short his trial, after prosecutors offered him a life sentence instead of life without parole.

Mr. Ward won a retrial in November 1992, when a Circuit Court judge ruled that Mr. Ward's former counsel was so incompetent that his client was denied his constitutional rights when he decided to plead guilty.

This case is being tried before Judge Warren B. Duckett Jr.

The prosecution alleges that Mr. Ward went to a gay bar in Baltimore the night of the murder to perform a sex act on Mr. Brewer for cash, but that while they were driving to a secluded spot another person accompanying Mr. Brewer and Mr. Ward "went crazy" and stabbed Mr. Brewer 25 times. The other person was never found.

Lawyers for Mr. Ward have told the jury that the defendant was in Florida at the time of the slaying, that his confession was coerced and that the witnesses who placed him at the scene are mistaken.

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