Testimony in drug case questioned

August 18, 1994|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Sun Staff Writer

A defense attorney questioned yesterday whether Howard County police officers may have violated a judge's order by reviewing a picture of a suspect before testifying at the man's pretrial hearing.

Clarke Ahlers of Columbia called five officers to the witness stand at a Howard Circuit Court hearing yesterday, where all testified that they looked at a police photograph of his client before appearing in court.

Three officers, Sgt. William McMahon, Detective Michael Ensko and Officer Jeffrey Giroux, testified that they reviewed Mr. Williams' picture before a July 28 hearing -- either at the courthouse or the police station.

Two officers -- Detective Susan Reider and Officer Ricky Johnson -- said they saw the suspect's picture sitting on top of files in a witness room outside the courtroom before yesterday's hearing.

Upon hearing the testimony, Assistant State's Attorney Robert Voss retrieved the picture from the witness room and turned it over to Judge Cornelius Sybert Jr.

Mr. Ahlers raised the issue at a hearing for Gregory P. Williams Sr., a 25-year-old Baltimore man who was arrested on four drug possession charges during a raid of a Columbia apartment building on April 15.

Mr. Ahlers said he intends to question the officer's identification of Mr. Williams as the suspect at his client's trial in September.

The attorney said he's concerned that the officers who reviewed Mr. Williams' picture may have an unfair advantage when they are asked to identify Mr. Williams as the suspect before a jury.

Throughout pretrial hearings in July and yesterday, Mr. Williams has sat in a hallway outside the courtroom where he can hear the proceedings but can't be seen by the witnesses.

Mr. Voss said the officers' actions should not be an issue. He said reviewing a picture is similar to officers who review reports to refresh their memory before having to testify.

Judge Sybert did not issue a determination whether the officers violated his sequestration order -- which prohibits witnesses from discussing the case -- at yesterday's hearing. The proceedings are to continue this afternoon.

Meanwhile, Judge Sybert issued a "gag order" preventing the attorneys involved in the case from discussing testimony and evidence with the news media and the public.

The order was requested by F. Todd Taylor, a county lawyer representing the police department. He provided the judge with two articles and an editorial about the Williams case that appeared in The Sun in which Mr. Ahlers was quoted.

Mr. Ahlers, who said he will obey the order, told Judge Sybert that he's concerned the order "paints me in a very false light." He said that he only clarified issues raised in court when talking with reporters.

The Williams case attracted attention last month when Mr. Ahlers asked Judge Sybert to order police to provide him with reports from an internal investigation of a clerk in the department's Property and Evidence Bureau who admitted that he was involved in a drug deal.

The clerk, Ray Leonardy, reported to a supervisor that he gave money to his girlfriend and accompanied her as she bought heroin in Baltimore. At the property room, Mr. Leonardy was responsible for maintaining narcotics seized as evidence in drug cases.

Mr. Leonardy, 49, has not been charged with a crime, but was transferred to another bureau.

Yesterday, Lt. Herman Charity, chief of the department's internal affairs division, turned over the agency's reports to Judge Sybert so he can determine what can be provided to Mr. Ahlers.

Mr. Ahlers said he learned of the incident involving Mr. Leonardy when a citizen asked for advice about getting a relative into a drug-rehabilitation program in an unrelated case.

The citizen told Mr. Ahlers that the relative had gotten drugs from Mr. Leonardy. The attorney said he notified police officials and was told that Mr. Leonardy was being investigated.

Mr. Ahlers said he later learned that Mr. Leonardy was a possible witness in the case against Mr. Williams because he had handled the drugs seized during the raid in Columbia.

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