Judge bars statements of suspect after arrest

March 15, 1994|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Sun Staff Writer

County prosecutors will not be permitted to use as evidence statements a man gave to police after his arrest on charges of killing his girlfriend at the Rocky Gorge Reservoir last year, under a ruling by a Howard Circuit Court judge yesterday.

The prosecution, however, will be able to introduce at trial statements that Marvin Philander Smith of Baltimore gave to investigators during an interview before he was formally charged in the slaying of 38-year-old Vanessa Armstead, also of Baltimore.

In both interviews, Mr. Smith denied that he beat to death Ms. Armstead, even after one of the investigators told Mr. Smith that his fingerprints were found at the scene of the April 13 slaying.

Detective Roger Gleason said that Mr. Smith was questioned twice: once several hours after Ms. Armstead's body was discovered April 13 at the Scaggsville reservoir, and a second time when he was arrested in North Carolina after eluding authorities for nearly two months.

At a hearing yesterday, Assistant Public Defender Daniel Shemer argued that prosecutors should not be allowed to use either of Mr. Smith's statements. He argued that the statements were not voluntary and that investigators violated his client's right to have an attorney present during questioning.

Judge Raymond Kane Jr. ruled that prosecutors can use statements Mr. Smith gave to police during the April 13 interview, noting that the testimony showed Mr. Smith was not under arrest at the time he talked with police and was free to end the questioning if he wished.

But Judge Kane said prosecutors are not permitted to use statements Mr. Smith gave during a June 9 interview after his arrest in Sanford, N.C., because Mr. Smith said he wanted an attorney at the end of his first interview two months earlier.

Mr. Smith, 36, is charged with first-degree murder for the slaying of Ms. Armstead, whose body was discovered floating in shallow water at the reservoir by fishermen. Prosecutors are expected to seek a sentence of life in prison without parole if Mr. Smith is convicted.

The defendant told police he last saw Ms. Armstead when they drove to a Baltimore liquor store in her 1977 Ford station wagon. He said he went into the store to make a purchase while Ms. Armstead waited in the car. When he came out, Mr. Smith said, the car was there but Ms. Armstead was gone.

Investigators said Mr. Smith became a suspect after Ms. Armstead's mother filed a missing person's report with a Baltimore police officer. The officer went to Mr. Smith because the defendant was believed to have been the last person to see Ms. Armstead.

Mr. Smith on April 13 agreed to go to a city Police Department building for questioning by two Howard investigators, including Detective Gleason. The detective said that Mr. Smith was not under arrest, although he was a suspect.

The interview ended when Mr. Smith said he wanted an attorney, just as police were about to check his hands and clothing for blood, Detective Gleason said. Mr. Smith then was permitted to leave the building.

Mr. Smith was arrested two months later by police in North Carolina when a man he was living with reported to authorities that Mr. Smith told him he killed a woman named Vanessa near a body of water, Detective Gleason said.

Mr. Smith then was extradited to Maryland and has since been held at the Howard County Detention Center. His trial is scheduled for May 4.

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