Defense tries rare strategies in bank robbery trial

March 02, 1995|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Sun Staff Writer

A Howard County public defender pursued several unusual legal strategies in Howard Circuit Court yesterday in the case of a man accused of robbing an Ellicott City bank last winter.

Deputy Public Defender Louis Willemin wanted a courtroom line-up, requested a judge to remove himself from the case and asked for the charges against 30-year-old Henry Darnell Johnson Jr. of Baltimore to be dismissed. And all that courtroom action occurred before the trial even started.

Mr. Willemin wanted the courtroom lineup to require witnesses to identify the robber. He brought six inmates from the Howard County Detention Center to the courthouse for the lineup, but Judge Raymond Kane Jr. denied the attorney's request.

Mr. Willemin also asked Judge Kane to remove himself from the case, voicing concern that an account the judge has at the bank where the robbery occurred could bias him against Mr. Johnson.

But Judge Kane denied that request as well. He said his small account at the Commercial and Farmers Bank on U.S. 40 would not interfere with his ability to preside over Mr. Johnson's jury trial.

The attorney then asked Judge Kane to dismiss the charges. He argued that federal regulations have hindered his ability to call the FBI agents who investigated the robbery as defense witnesses.

When Judge Kane turned down that request, Mr. Willemin sought a postponement. The judge denied that too.

Mr. Johnson is being tried on charges of robbery, assault and assault with intent to rob. The trial continues today. He also is awaiting trial in Baltimore County on charges in four other bank robberies.

The Howard prosecution's first witness was Mary Beth McCanna, a teller at Commercial and Farmer's Bank who was confronted by a robber Jan. 25, 1994.

"He leaned over toward me and said 'I have a .45 Magnum in my coat. Just give me all your 100s and 50s and you won't be hurt,' " Ms. McCanna told the jury of nine women and three men.

Ms. McCanna testified that she hesitated -- because the robber didn't give her a bag in which to put the money. When the robber told her to hand him the cash, she complied.

Senior Assistant State's Attorney Joseph Murtha said in his opening statement that a picture taken by a surveillance camera shows Mr. Johnson as the man who confronted Ms. McCanna.

Mr. Willemin disputed the prosecutor's assertion.

"That person resembles Henry Johnson," the attorney said in his opening statement. "Maybe it is. Maybe it isn't."

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