Attorneys for former suspect in Arnold slaying want tests done on gun

May 08, 1994|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Sun Staff Writer

Bolstered by a report in an Eastern Shore case, attorneys for a man who was accused of gunning down an Arnold woman in her driveway want to test the gun even though the murder charge against him was dropped.

Attorneys for Edward McLeod, who was charged in the Sept. 26, 1993, slaying of Joanne Valentine, say they want to clear their client. Prosecutors say that since a murder charge against McLeod was dropped three months ago there is no reason for more tests on the gun.

"They have no standing because there's no [murder] charge against him," said State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee. "It's like an attorney asking for information about a case, based on a hypothetical that he might possibly be representing that person."

Mr. Weathersbee said the gun and the reliability of the tests conducted on it were not factors in his decision to drop the murder charge Feb. 7. At that time he said there was insufficient evidence to convict Mcleod. He declined to elaborate, saying the murder investigation was continuing.

McLeod, 43, of the 1800 block of Division St., Baltimore, still is charged with theft for allegedly stealing a .38-caliber Taurus handgun from the On Target gun store in Odenton on July 7, 1993. No trial date has been set.

He is serving two concurrent one-year prison terms on unrelated theft charges and has been charged with federal weapons offenses.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Semel said that McLeod could be sentenced to up to 10 years in federal prison if he is found guilty, as a felon, of possessing a handgun. No trial date has been set, Mr. Semel said.

According to court records, police found the pistol in the trunk of McLeod's car after he was arrested Oct. 1, 1993, on charges of stealing nine packs of film from a Safeway supermarket at the Lake Shore Plaza Shopping Center in the 4100 block of Mountain Road.

He was charged with murder Nov. 10, after police said tests showed the pistol was used to shoot Mrs. Valentine. She was killed as she returned home after closing the two nightclubs she operated, Club Rumblefish and A.L. Gators.

McLeod's lawyers, assistant public defenders Carroll McCabe and Mark Blumberg, said they are worried because their client is still the main focus of the investigation.

"Our concern is that they could re-charge him at any time in the future," said Ms. McCabe.

Ms. McCabe said Joseph Kopera, the state police firearms expert who found that McLeod's gun was used to kill Mrs. Valentine, determined in an Eastern Shore case that a particular weapon was used in a slaying. Mr. Kopera's findings in that case were called into question by a ballistics expert who conducted his own tests, she said.

"All we're saying is, let's make sure this is the right gun," Ms. McCabe said.

In the Eastern Shore case, Winnie Perry Whitby III, 24, of Chester had been charged in the execution-style slayings of two brothers from Stevensville, Michael S. Brooks, 18, and Stephen D. Brooks, 23. Mr. Whitby was arrested after Mr. Kopera's tests determined his gun was used in the Aug. 8, 1993, slaying.

William N. Welch, a former state police lieutenant, contested Mr. Kopera's conclusions and said tests he conducted on Mr. Whitby's gun were "inconclusive," said Gary Christopher, an assistant public defender who represented Mr. Whitby.

Charges against Mr. Whitby were dropped for unrelated reasons.

Mr. Kopera said he could not comment about a pending case. However, he did say that ballistic tests are considered as reliable as fingerprint testing and that his conclusions are often reviewed by outside consultants and found to be as scientifically accurate those done by any police agency in the country.

"You have to remember that this [defense] expert is being hired to raise a doubt, to put a doubt in someone's mind," he said. "An expert's opinion is only as good as the expert giving it."

McLeod's lawyers also are seeking a court order to keep police and prosecutors from destroying any evidence collected in the case.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Valentine's relatives say they would like to see whoever killed her charged and convicted. The victim's husband, Vincent Valentine, said last week that the family is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the killer.

"The whole thing's such a tedious process, at best," said Pam Lyons, the victim's sister. "It's just a matter of trying to be patient with the system."

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