Attorneys argue over DNA tests

July 27, 1995|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Sun Staff Writer

At the last hearing for murder suspect Daniel Scott Harney before his trial starts Monday, prosecutors and defense attorneys wrangled yesterday over DNA evidence that may link blood found on his car and gun to his slain wife.

If a judge allows them to be used, the DNA test results likely would bolster the prosecution's case against Mr. Harney, charged with first-degree murder in the Dec. 26 slaying of his 41-year-old estranged wife, Shirley Scott Harney, in her Ellicott City home.

Mr. Harney -- also charged with attempted murder of his wife's boyfriend William A. Helmbold, 45, of Woodlawn -- could be sentenced to life imprisonment if convicted of either charge.

A financial administrator from Owings Mills, Mr. Harney, 40, was arrested in Charlotte, N.C., within minutes of the case being featured on the national television show "America's Most Wanted." Mr. Harney had his two sons with him,

The Harney trial -- expected to last a week -- promises to generate rare drama in Howard's Circuit Court. At yesterday's hearing, the wrangling began.

Mr. Harney's attorney, Clarke F. Ahlers of Columbia, said the DNA evidence should be prohibited because prosecutors waited too long to provide him with reports on the tests.

"The state wants [to have] its cake and eat it, too," Mr. Ahlers said. "That seems to me to be fundamentally unfair."

Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr. did not rule on Mr. Ahlers' request but ordered prosecutors to give the DNA reports to Mr. Ahlers at yesterday's hearing.

Today, the hearing is to resume to determine whether the laboratory that conducted the DNA tests properly analyzed blood samples. Such a hearing is required before DNA evidence can be introduced at a trial.

Mr. Ahlers questioned why prosecutors submitted blood samples to the Maryland State Police laboratory -- which just started conducting DNA tests last spring -- when other labs could have done the tests. This is the first time the lab has been used in a murder case.

Senior Assistant State's Attorney Joseph Murtha said it was better to use the state police laboratory for the DNA tests because it had already done routine blood tests in the case.

Mr. Murtha said the FBI lab would have taken months to finish the tests and a private facility -- such as Cellmark Diagnostics of Germantown, used by prosecutors in the O. J. Simpson murder case -- would have cost too much.

Senior Assistant State's Attorney Kathi Hill added that prosecutors have diligently provided Mr. Ahlers with evidence expected to be used at Mr. Harney's trial.

She noted that Mr. Ahlers did not request some of the DNA reports until Monday evening, and prosecutors intended to provide him with those reports yesterday afternoon.

"The state was not aware this would be such an issue," Ms. Hill said. "The defendant has been given fairness in this matter."

Mr. Harney, who worked for the Westinghouse Corp., was to graduate from the University of Baltimore's law school last spring.

He was second in his class and served as a clerk for Howard District Court judges last year.

Prosecutors plan to seek a sentence of life in prison without parole for Mr. Harney if he is convicted. In April, they ruled out seeking the death penalty, saying the case did not meet the state's strict rules for capital punishment.

Monday's proceedings will start with Judge Kane, prosecutors and defense attorneys screening about 150 county residents to determine who will serve on the 12-member jury that will decide Mr. Harney's guilt or innocence.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys declined to comment on their strategies for the trial.

The first prosecution witnesses should testify late Monday or Tuesday morning.

Prosecutors have subpoenas for about 120 potential witnesses,

but only a fraction of them are expected to be called to the witness stand. Meanwhile, defense attorneys have obtained subpoenas for 31 possible witnesses.

Mother, son may testify

Two subpoenaed defense witnesses are Mr. Harney's mother, Alice Lucille Harney of McLean, Va., and one of his sons.

Key prosecution testimony is expected to come from Mr. Helmbold, who police say identified Mr. Harney as the person who shot him in the right arm and killed Mrs. Harney. Mr. Helmbold's emergency call to 911, tape-recorded by dispatchers the county's communications center, may be played for jurors.

Police say Mr. Harney entered Mrs. Harney's house through a basement window shortly before 9:30 p.m. He confronted his wife and Mr. Helmbold in an upstairs bedroom, striking and shooting them, police say.

A pool of blood

Mr. Harney went downstairs to the living room, with Mrs. Harney and Mr. Helmbold following him, according to police. Mr. Harney grabbed Mrs. Harney and forced her to go outside, the police document says.

Other testimony will come from detectives, who are expected to detail the investigation of the shooting.

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