Appeals court reverses 1994 murder conviction

March 26, 1995|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Sun Staff Writer

Timothy Cumberland's first-degree murder conviction in the slaying of a Westminster man he didn't shoot has been reversed by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.

The state's second-highest court ruled last week that Carroll Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. gave the jury in Mr. Cumberland's case an inappropriate answer to a question the panel asked during deliberations.

In its 17-page opinion, the Court of Special Appeals said Judge Beck's answer to the jury's question, about the meaning of intent in first-degree murder, was misleading and confusing.

"We are unable to say beyond a reasonable doubt that the court's supplemental instruction was harmless," the appellate judges wrote.

Judge Beck declined to comment on the reversal.

Mr. Cumberland, 25, of Reisterstown, was the only one of the three men charged in the January 1993 death of Gregory Lamont Howard to be convicted of first-degree murder, even though he didn't fire the fatal blast, drive the getaway car or own the murder weapon.

Co-defendants Samuel Allen Miller, who fired the fatal shot, and Daniel Justin Leonard, who owned the weapon, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in September 1993. Miller is serving a 30-year sentence and Leonard is serving 10 years.

By reversing the conviction, the appellate court paved the way for a possible retrial. Mr. Cumberland was serving 40 years of a life sentence for the conviction.

Michael D. Montemarano, the Baltimore lawyer who represented Cumberland, said he will remain incarcerated for at least 30 days or until prosecutors decide whether they will seek a retrial.

Mr. Montemarano called the appellate decision a sound one.

"I said the conviction was wrong then, and I say it is wrong now," Mr. Montemarano said. "I hope Mr. Cumberland gets justice this time."

Mr. Howard's mother, who sat quietly through the seven-day trial in February 1994, said she is disappointed by the decision.

"He deserved what he got," Patricia Winfield, a parole agent in Carroll County, said Friday, referring to Mr. Cumberland. "After he was sentenced, I didn't give this any more thought, I sort of gave a sigh of relief. But I'm not going to desert my son's memory. I'll be there again."

The Court of Special Appeals rejected many of Mr. Cumberland's arguments, including that his conviction should be thrown out because prosecutors didn't present enough evidence to support a first-degree murder count.

According to testimony, the night of the killing, the three defendants left a Westminster bar and bought a bag of crack cocaine on South Center Street. Mr. Cumberland wanted another bag, so the trio drove in Leonard's car around the block and returned to buy what turned out to be a bag of soap shavings. Mr. Cumberland vowed revenge on the person who had sold them the bogus crack and told Leonard to drive back again to South Center Street.

When the car stopped, Mr. Cumberland got out, brandished a 12-gauge shotgun and yelled at people in the 100 block of S. Center St. Then he got back into the car as Mr. Howard approached the vehicle and leaned over the rear passenger door.

Mr. Howard, who was not involved in either of Mr. Cumberland's drug purchases, was shot while the gun was in Miller's hands.

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