Kidnapper is missing kin say he was kidnapped

March 24, 1994|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun Staff Writer

Police in Baltimore and Baltimore County are looking for Paul Antonio Burton.

The question is whether Burton was kidnapped -- as his family says -- or is merely on the dodge from a Baltimore County jury that convicted him in absentia Tuesday in the kidnapping, robbery and attempted murder of a Baltimore man.

Burton did not appear for the second day of his trial in Baltimore County Circuit Court Tuesday, and only hours before the trial ended, relatives reported to city police that he had been kidnapped that morning from his East Baltimore home.

Agent Doug Price, a city police spokesman, said yesterday that investigators aren't sure whether Burton was abducted or not. But, in view of the events in the county courthouse, he said, "we have to examine the possibility that this is some sort of subterfuge."

Assistant State's Attorney James O'C. Gentry said a defendant voluntarily absent from trial may be convicted under Maryland law. However, if Burton is found and can prove that he was kidnapped, he may have a basis for a legal appeal, the prosecutor said.

Burton could be sentenced to nearly 100 years in prison on Tuesday's convictions, and will get a minimum of 25 years without parole under Maryland's three-time loser law, Mr. Gentry said.

Judge Alfred L. Brennan Sr. has issued a warrant for Burton's arrest.

The purported kidnapping wasn't the first unusual event to disrupt the prosecution of Burton for the attack on Keith Johnson.

Howard Margulies, Burton's original defense attorney, testified that Burton had brought to his office an impostor who pretended to be Mr. Johnson, the man Burton tied up, robbed and shot in an apartment off Liberty Road in November.

Mr. Margulies testified that the man he thought was Keith Johnson told him that the crimes had never happened and that he had made up the story.

Prosecutor Gentry said an impostor also telephoned him in February to tell him he would be in California and unavailable for the trial. The prosecution discovered the ruse a few days later when the real Keith Johnson called to find out when the trial would begin.

Two of Burton's female relatives told police that Burton was abducted after four masked men -- dressed in black, wearing gloves and brandishing handguns -- broke into their home in the 100 block of N. Luzerne Ave. about 7:30 a.m. Tuesday. They said the intruders tied them up and waited until Burton arrived, then bound his hands and took him away.

The crimes for which Burton was being tried occurred Nov. 11, 1993, Mr. Gentry said, after Mr. Johnson had gone to a prearranged meeting at an apartment occupied by Burton's girlfriend in the 100 block of Sunmar Court in the Lochearn area.

The prosecutor said two men in the apartment grabbed Mr. Johnson, beat him and tied him with duct tape. But, as they carried him outside, he tried to run away.

One assailant shot Mr. Johnson in the right leg, but he escaped and found a passerby who called police as the kidnappers fled, the prosecutor said.

Mr. Gentry said Burton appeared for trial Monday but did not show up at 10 a.m. Tuesday when his new lawyer, Mary Ann Berlin, was scheduled to put on the defense. In his absence, the jury convicted Burton based on Mr. Johnson's testimony.

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