Detective recounts his suspicions of man accused in girlfriend's death

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

A Howard County police detective testified Friday that he thought the man on trial in the April 1993 slaying of his girlfriend was lying when he was first questioned about the woman's death.

Sgt. Lee Lachman told a Howard Circuit Court jury that Marvin Philander Smith vomited, perspired profusely and appeared to be shaking during a voluntary interview the day the woman's body was found at a Scaggsville reservoir.

Mr. Smith is charged with first-degree murder in the fatal beating of Vanessa Armstead, a 38-year-old Baltimore woman whose body was found floating in the Rocky Gorge Reservoir on April 13, 1993.

Mr. Smith, 37, of Baltimore could be sentenced to life in prison ZTC without parole if he is convicted. His trial continues tomorrow before Judge Raymond Kane Jr.

Sergeant Lachman testified that Mr. Smith told him and another detective that he last saw Ms. Armstead at a city liquor store about midnight the night of her death.

Mr. Smith said that when he went into the store Ms. Armstead was in her 1977 Ford station wagon, according to Sergeant Lachman. When he came out of the shop, the car was there but Ms. Armstead was gone.

Details of the interview were revealed while Sergeant Lachman was being cross-examined by Mr. Smith, who is the first defendant to represent himself on murder charges in Howard County in years.

"When it came to questions about the death of Miss Armstead," Sergeant Lachman told Mr. Smith, "you would look away and give your answers."

Mr. Smith was not under arrest when he was questioned, Sergeant Lachman said. He noted that the door to the Police Department's interview room was propped open so Mr. Smith could leave at any time.

Sergeant Lachman said Mr. Smith at first was willing to be photographed and fingerprinted by police, but he later changed his mind because he wanted to talk with a lawyer.

The sergeant testified that investigators learned that Mr. Smith was planning to leave Baltimore, buying a bus ticket to Richmond with a stop in Washington.

Detectives asked Washington police to pick up Mr. Smith, but officers sent to the station detained the wrong man, Sergeant Lachman said. Detectives learned that Mr. Smith never got back on the bus to Richmond. Mr. Smith was arrested in North Carolina two months later.

In other testimony Friday, Mario Golle Jr., a medical examiner who performed the autopsy, testified that Ms. Armstead died from multiple blunt force injuries.

Ms. Armstead suffered three blows to her head that fractured her skull, Dr. Golle said. She suffered a fourth blow to her torso that broke two ribs and punctured her liver.

Prosecutors have introduced as evidence a 6-foot branch that they said is the weapon. The branch had traces of Ms. Armstead's blood and hair, they said.

Dr. Golle testified that Ms. Armstead died about 12 hours before her body was found by fisherman about noon April 13, 1993.

He added that Ms. Armstead had a blood alcohol content of .21, more than double the state's legal limit.

Relatives of Ms. Armstead testified Thursday that the woman and Mr. Smith often argued, sometimes violently, when they drank alcohol. The relatives said Ms. Armstead and Mr. Smith were drinking the night before her death.

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