Victim's record at issue in trial Prosecutors seek to bar arrest file in fatal shooting case

October 30, 1995|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,SUN STAFF

Carroll County prosecutors want to keep jurors from hearing about drug charges against slaying victim Gregory Lamont Howard that were dropped the day before he died in 1993.

According to court documents, prosecutors intend to argue before Circuit Judge Francis M. Arnold in private this afternoon that Mr. Howard's record, including a possession of marijuana charge, is irrelevant to whether Timothy Cumberland was responsible for his death Jan. 28, 1993.

Mr. Cumberland, 25, who did not shoot the fatal blast, own the weapon or drive the getaway car, was convicted in February 1994 of first-degree murder in Mr. Howard's death.

In March, the verdict was overturned because appellate judges decided Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr.'s answer to a question about the meaning of intent in first-degree murder was misleading and confusing.

Neither Assistant State's Attorney Clarence W. Beall III nor Assistant Public Defender Judson K. Larrimore, who is defending Mr. Cumberland, was available for comment Friday.

"It's unfair that he [Mr. Howard] is not here to speak on his own behalf," his mother, Patricia Winfield, said Friday. "But I know what kind of a son he was to me. I always taught him that everyone needs to be accountable for his own actions."

Ms. Winfield, who works as a parole and probation officer in Carroll County, said she had thought her ordeal was over when Mr. Cumberland was convicted.

But "the justice system doesn't work that way," she said, tearfully. "It's not an easy thing. But whatever happens, it's not going to bring my son back."

District Court files show that Mr. Howard, who was 22 at his death, was arrested in October 1992 when a state police officer stopped him for a traffic violation near Route 140 and Sandymount Road.

After a drug-sniffing dog checked the car, police searched and found a metal tube with suspected marijuana residue. Prosecutors decided to drop charges against Mr. Howard on Jan. 27, 1993.

The next evening, Mr. Howard was shot after Mr. Cumberland and his friends drove to Center Street in Westminster looking for the person who sold them soap flakes instead of crack cocaine earlier that night, police have said.

Police have said that Mr. Howard had nothing to do with the drug deal and was trying to act as peacemaker in the moments before he was shot at close range with a shotgun.

Mr. Howard agreed to perform 50 hours of community service and pay court costs in exchange for having theft charges against him placed on the inactive docket in 1992, District Court files show. He had been accused of helping steal a lawn chair from a Westminster apartment.

In the 1994 slaying trial, prosecutors said Mr. Cumberland played the role of ringleader in the killing.

But prosecutors have said Mr. Cumberland -- who is accused of jumping out of the car and swinging the shotgun like a club -- was bent on revenge for the bad drug deal.

Mr. Cumberland's co-defendants, Samuel Allen Miller and Daniel Justin Leonard, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in September 1993. Miller, who fired the fatal shot, is serving 30 years in state prison; Leonard, who owned the shotgun, is serving 10 years.

Mr. Cumberland rejected a similar plea deal.

Jurors in Mr. Cumberland's retrial, which is expected to last at least a week, are scheduled to be selected tomorrow.

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