Man reported kidnapped on day he is convicted in Towson

March 23, 1994|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

A 24-year-old Baltimore man reported to have been kidnapped was simultaneously absent from the second day of a two-day trial in Towson that ended yesterday with a jury convicting him on kidnapping, armed robbery and attempted murder charges.

Baltimore police spokesman Doug Price said this morning that police had no proof that the kidnapping of Paul Antonio Burton wasn't real, but he said that in view of the county court events: "We have to examine the possibility that this is some sort of subterfuge."

Only hours before his trial ended in Baltimore County Circuit Court yesterday afternoon, relatives reported to city police that Burton had been kidnapped from his East Baltimore home.

An arrest warrant was issued yesterday.

Burton could face nearly 100 years in prison on yesterday's convictions, and a minimum of 25 years in prison without parole under Maryland's three-time loser law, according to assistant county states attorney James O'C. Gentry.

Mr. Gentry said the purported kidnapping isn't the first unusual event that has disrupted Burton's prosecution.

The prosecutor said he put Howard Margulies, Burton's first defense attorney, on the witness stand during the two-day trial to describe how Burton brought to Mr. Margulies an impostor who pretended to be the victim in the case.

The impostor claimed to be Keith Johnson, an admitted city drug dealer who was robbed, tied up and shot in Burton's Liberty Road apartment last November. He told Mr. Margulies that he had made up the story and that the crime never happened.

The impostor also telephoned Mr. Gentry in early February, the prosecutor said, to report that he would be in California and unavailable to testify in the trial.

The ruse was discovered a few days later when the real Keith Johnson called to find out when the trial would begin.

Mr. Gentry said a woman claiming to be Burton's sister called Judge Brennan's chambers today, asking about the results of yesterday's trial.

Told that Burton was convicted, Mr. Gentry said the woman asked him: "How could he be guilty? He wasn't there."

Two female relatives of Burton's told police yesterday that four men wearing masks and gloves broke into their home in the 100 block North Luzerne Ave., at about 7:30 a.m., tied them up and asked for "Paul."

The men, armed with pistols, tied Burton's hands and took him out when he arrived, they told police.

The crime involving Mr. Johnson occurred on November 11, 1993, Mr. Gentry said, when Mr. Johnson came to Burton's girlfriend's apartment in the 100 block Sunmar Court, off Liberty Road near Lochearn, for a pre-arranged meeting.

Two other men in the apartment grabbed Mr. Johnson instead, however, and began beating him. They tied him with duct tape, and began carrying him outside when he revived and broke away.

One of the kidnappers fired a shot which hit Mr. Johnson's right leg, however, but he completed his escape despite that, by contacting a passerby who called police. The assailants fled.

Mr. Gentry theorized that the attack was based on rumors that Mr. Johnson kept cash and drugs in his own apartment.

He said Burton did not appear for his trial Monday, but was to appear Tuesday at 10 a.m. when his new lawyer, Mary Ann Berlin, was to attempt a defense for him. His alleged kidnapping prevented that appearance, however.

Despite that, and based on the testimony of Mr. Johnson, the jury convicted Burton anyway.

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