Baltimorean defends himself in girlfriend's slaying

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

Marvin Philander Smith stood alone before a Howard Circuit Court jury yesterday, asserting his innocence of charges that he killed his girlfriend at a Scaggsville reservoir in April 1993.

The 37-year-old Baltimore resident delivered the opening statement in his own defense, the first time in recent years that county officials recall a defendant in Howard County had represented himself on murder charges.

Wearing a gray county Detention Center uniform, Mr. Smith said he would prove his innocence by rebutting the prosecution's evidence and witnesses' testimony.

"I have no evidence to present to you," said Mr. Smith, who dismissed his public defender in July and decided to handle the case himself.

Testimony will continue today before Judge Raymond Kane Jr. The trial is expected to conclude next week.

Mr. Smith, who has a high school equivalency diploma, could be sentenced to life in prison without parole if convicted of first-degree murder.

He is charged in the beating death of Vanessa Armstead, a 38-year-old Baltimore woman whose body was found floating in the shallow waters of the Rocky Gorge Reservoir on April 13, 1993.

Mr. Smith, standing at the defense table with a sheriff's deputy several feet behind him, acknowledged to the jury of nine women and three men that there are many circumstances surrounding Ms. Armstead's death that he cannot answer.

Senior Assistant State's Attorney Kate O'Donnell said in her opening statement that the prosecution will present evidence that will link Mr. Smith to Ms. Armstead's death.

"Use your common sense in this case," Ms. O'Donnell told the jurors. "You'll see the evidence. It is a fairly clear-cut case."

Ms. O'Donnell did not offer the jury a motive for the slaying.

She noted, however, that Mr. Smith told police investigators after Ms. Armstead's body was discovered that he had last seen the woman at a Baltimore liquor store.

The prosecutor said Mr. Smith reported that he had never been to the area of the reservoir known as Scotts Cove, off Harding Road, where Ms. Armstead's body was found.

But technicians from the police crime laboratory found several fingerprints at the scene that matched Mr. Smith's.

Ms. O'Donnell also told the jury that Mr. Smith fled Maryland shortly after he was questioned by police. He was arrested in North Carolina in June 1993.

During yesterday's proceedings, Ms. O'Donnell presented photographs of the crime scene that showed Ms. Armstead's body in the reservoir and a pool of blood near the lake.

The prosecutor also presented a 6-foot-long branch that is thought to have been the murder weapon. Ms. O'Donnell said blood and human hair were found on the branch.

Mr. Smith did not cross-examine the prosecution's first two witnesses, a Laurel man who found Ms. Armstead's body while fishing with his 14-year-old son and the county patrolman who was the first officer to arrive at the scene.

Mr. Smith did question John Willard, a crime laboratory technician, about how he collected evidence at the reservoir and what he did with the evidence once it was taken from the scene.

Mr. Willard said he and police officers found numerous footprints along the banks of the reservoir but did not put them in casts for analysis.

The department also did not determine whether the soles of a pair of men's tennis shoes found in Ms. Armstead's 1977 Ford station wagon matched any footprints at the reservoir, Mr. Willard said.

Mr. Willard said that he did not recall whether the department checked to see whether any blood or soil from the reservoir was found in the car.

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