Murder trial begins in stabbings of woman, daughter

September 28, 1994|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Sun Staff Writer

After a failed bid to steer the blame for a double murder to beyond the grave, a West Baltimore man goes on trial today in the stabbing deaths of his girlfriend and the woman's daughter.

The attempt to pin the slayings on a dead man hung on hair -- strands plucked from the exhumed body of the slain woman's former boyfriend. But lab tests showed that the hairs pulled from the head of the late Leroy Edward Harris did not match hairs at the crime scene.

Thus, 35-year-old Norman R. Brown remained the only suspect in the Sept. 22, 1993, slayings of Cynthia D. Gilliam and her 13-year-old daughter, Donnette D. Smith. Yesterday, a jury was selected to hear his case. Testimony is to begin today in Baltimore Circuit Court.

In July, defense lawyer David Eaton persuaded Judge Roger W. Brown to order the exhumation of Mr. Harris' body. Mr. Harris, never identified as a suspect in the slayings, died in March at age 47 of complications from acquired immune deficiency syndrome and was buried in a Brooklyn Park cemetery.

Mr. Eaton said tests showed that the hairs found on the victims did not match hairs from his client and that possibly Mr. Harris' hairs would match. Judge Brown granted the request, and the body was exhumed in early August. It was described as a rare decision that infuriated the dead man's family and raised questions about the privacy rights of the dead.

Veteran Baltimore prosecutors recalled several cases in which a body was exhumed to determine whether the person had died as the result of foul play. But none could recall an exhumation resulting from a defense lawyer's hope of shifting blame to a dead person.

The dead man's mother, Esther Ray, said yesterday that no one told her that the tests did not implicate her son. The findings did not seem to mollify her anger that her son's grave had been disturbed.

"I was upset about it all the time," she said. "I didn't know what happened."

Ms. Gilliam, 30, and the girl were stabbed, bludgeoned and beaten during an attack in their Reservoir Hill apartment. Ms. Gilliam's 10-year-old daughter, Jacqueline D. Parker, was stabbed in the face and was hospitalized for weeks.

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