Acquittal ends years in jail, stirs questions

February 20, 1994|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Sun Staff Writer

The ordered and regimented routine of life behind bars has yet to leave Bernard L. Ward Jr., newly free after spending five years in prison for a murder that a jury decided 10 days ago he did not commit.

When he wakes up each morning, Mr. Ward thinks he's still in his cell at the Maryland Correctional Institute in Jessup. He forgets that the bathroom is down the hall and that it isn't "lights out" at 10 o'clock each night.

He stacked his belongings from prison in one corner of the basement of the Dundalk rowhouse he now shares with his fiancee -- as if storage space were still a precious commodity.

"I keep waiting for somebody to say you can't do that," he says. "I got so used to a routine way of life, it's a little hard to adjust."

Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Warren B. Duckett Jr. released Mr. Ward on Feb. 10 after a jury found him not guilty in the murder of Eddie Brewer, a 25-year-old Dundalk man stabbed to death five years ago in Glen Burnie.

Now, as Mr. Ward searches for a job and makes wedding plans, police,prosecutors and his lawyers say they remain intrigued by a case in which:

* A defendant pleaded guilty to a murder committed in Glen Burnie the same day that four people later testified that he had been with them in Florida.

* A police detective remains convinced he arrested the right man -- despite those witnesses and the acquittal.

* A victim's parents face the prospect that their son's killer might never be found.

Anne Arundel County Detective David Harp said after Mr. Ward wasreleased that he has no plans to re-open his investigation.

"The criminal system stinks. It absolutely stinks," said Eddie Brewer's father, Walter Brewer, 64, a retired yardmaster for the Patapsco Back River Railroad Co.

Mr. Ward, 34, adamantly denies that he was involved in the death of the former bartender, weightlifter and railroad maintenance worker whose body was found choked, stabbed and beaten in an abandoned house along Crain Highway on Dec. 12, 1988.

Police say the murder occurred shortly after midnight Nov. 16, 1988, the date, witnesses said, they saw Mr. Brewer's 1977 Camaro being torched in a parking lot about 50 yards from the abandoned house.

Mr. Ward, a bricklayer who dropped out of Patterson High School in the 10th grade, was arrested four days later after three witnesses identified him as the man they saw standing next to the burning car.

Four days into his first trial in July 1989, Mr. Ward entered an Alford plea, not admitting guilt, but conceding that the state had enough evidence to convict him. He said he agreed to the plea in exchange for alife sentence rather than life without parole.

Mr. Ward said last week his lawyer, George Kariotis, told him he could be out in five years with good behavior.

He said he didn't learn until later that he would more likely serve at least 20 years. "I was looking at life without parole compared to what I thought was five years. It made sense at the time," he said.

Mr. Ward found himself a new lawyer, Fred Heyman of Bel Air, who on Nov. 13, 1992, won his client a new trial.

In his decision granting the trial, Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Robert H. Heller Jr. said Mr. Kariotis' representation had been so ineffective and unprofessional that Mr. Ward's rights had been violated by the time he decided to plead guilty.

Judge Heller called Mr. Kariotis' behavior "outrageous," noting that he failed to question witnesses, didn't object once during the four days of testimony and met with his client only briefly before the trial.

Mr. Kariotis, who since has been disbarred for unrelated reasons, said that Mr. Ward was his first murder defendant and that he tried to persuade his client to seek help from the state public defender's office but that Mr. Ward refused.

Mr. Kariotis denied that he ever told Mr. Ward he would be in prison only five years.

He said he met with him "several times" at the detention center to discuss the case before the trial. He also said he met repeatedly with Mr. Ward's then-roommate, Morris J. Scott III, for background on the case.

"I'm very happy for Bernie; I really tried, and I did the best I could for him," Mr. Kariotis said.

Mr. Heyman said he was attracted to the case because he believed an innocent man had been wronged by the system.

"What made me hold on to it was that everything that Bernie Ward told me, I found to be true," he said.

In the second trial, Mr. Ward's former wife, Karen Stewart, testified that he had been with her in Tallahassee, Fla., the day of the murder and that they had visited a Social Security office and the Leon County Courthouse that day.

The Social Security clerk testified that he remembered Mr. Ward being with his former wife, and a Leon County court clerk said Ms. Stewart was accompanied by a man when she filed a petition for custody of children she had by another man.

Lyndal Schneyfelt, a handwriting expert from Alexandria, Va., also testified that the petition completed in Leon County the day of the murder was in Mr. Ward's handwriting.

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