Charges again dropped in death of club owner

March 31, 1995|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Sun Staff Writer

For the second time, Anne Arundel County prosecutors have dropped murder charges against defendants accused in the September 1993 slaying of JoAnne S. Valentine, a 47-year-old nightclub owner who was shot to death in the driveway of her Arnold home.

State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee made the move yesterday after confirming reports that one of the accused men was jailed in Baltimore County on Sept. 26, 1993, the night Mrs. Valentine was killed in the 500 block of Broadwater Road.

Edward W. McLeod, 44, was released from the Anne Arundel County jail yesterday afternoon. Gilbert E. Griffin, 42, remains at the Maryland House of Correction Annex in Jessup. He is serving a 10-year sentence for the theft of the handgun police say was used in the slaying.

Griffin's lawyer, Pamela L. North, said she warned prosecutors in a March 3 letter that her client had a solid alibi and that she expected to clear him before the April 11 trial date.

"I told them that he was not guilty and that they should continue their investigation into this murder," Ms. North said. "Apparently, at that time no one heeded anything that I said."

Mr. Weathersbee acknowledged that the Baltimore County records Ms. North provided Tuesday destroyed the credibility of Clarence D. Pittman, a key prosecution witness and convicted armed robber.

Pittman had said he heard both defendants discussing the slaying at Mr. McLeod's home in Baltimore shortly after the slaying.

"Obviously, the police thought they had the right guys. But the evidence we're left with no longer establishes that," Mr. Weathersbee said.

Mr. McLeod was first charged with murder Nov. 9, 1993, based on evidence that he stole a .32-caliber Taurus handgun used in the slaying. Prosecutors dropped those on charges Feb. 7, 1994, because they didn't have enough evidence to bring the case to trial.

Police later obtained sworn statements from Pittman. Based on his testimony, the Anne Arundel County grand jury indicted Griffin and Mr. McLeod on Dec. 19, 1994. Pittman, 50, has since pleaded guilty to robbery in an armed carjacking and is awaiting sentencing.

Mr. McLeod could still be charged with theft of the handgun, said his lawyer, assistant public defender Carroll L. McCabe.

Yesterday's decision saddened and frustrated the victims' family. They met for more than an hour with prosecutores to discuss the case.

"I don't get it. I don't understand how this could happen. I really don't," said Anna Valentine, the victim's 77-year-old mother-in-law. "Why didn't these lawyers come forward sooner?"

Lt. Harry Collier, head of the county police department's crimes against persons section, said Griffin's arrest in Baltimore County didn't show up in the Criminal Justice Information System computers. He said the arrest was never entered into the computer because Griffin's fingerprints couldn't be taken -- a requirement for the arrest to be recorded in the computer.

Lieutenant Collier declined to say why Griffin's fingerprints could not be taken but said such things happen when a defendant's fingers are badly cut or burned at the time of the arrest.

"For the defense to say that the police didn't do their homework is just not accurate," he said.

Mr. Weathersbee also defends his office's actions.

Yesterday, he used a three-page press release to lash out at the public defender's office, calling the office's conduct "despicable" and "reprehensible." He said defense attorneys should have notified him sooner if they believed Griffin had been in jail at the time of the slaying.

"For years, the local Public Defender's Office contingent has thought more of publicity for themselves than representing their clients," Mr. Weathersbee wrote.

Alan R. Friedman, the Anne Arundel County public defender, called Mr. Weathersbee's comments "absolute nonsense." He commended his lawyers who worked on the case and said police and prosecutors would have discovered Griffin was in jail if they had conducted a more thorough investigation.

"It's an attempt to deflect attention from where the fault lies in this case, which is in the superficial police work and superficial work by the state's attorney's office," he said.

Ms. McCabe and assistant public defender Mark Blumberg, her co-counsel, said prosecutors in pretrial discussions ignored evidence that Pittman often lied and was an unreliable witness.

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