Police officer's bid to avoid 2nd trial in slaying rejected Supreme Court opens way for prosecution over 1993 fatal shooting of teen-ager

January 17, 1996|By Lyle Denniston and Kate Shatzkin | Lyle Denniston and Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court cleared the way yesterday for Maryland prosecutors to begin a new manslaughter trial in a racially charged case against a white Baltimore police officer charged in the fatal shooting of a black teen-ager in 1993.

Baltimore Assistant State's Attorney Timothy J. Doory, who prosecuted Officer Edward T. Gorwell, said the court's action would revive the prosecution. "The next step in the process would be an arraignment, and we would expect that within the month," he said.

The court made no comment as it turned down an appeal by Officer Gorwell, who is trying to head off a second criminal trial growing out of the incident in Gwynns Falls Park.

Henry Belsky, Officer Gorwell's lawyer, said his client was "disappointed" at the court's action, but eager to get the case behind him.

"As you know, the Supreme Court takes very few cases," Mr. Belsky said. "I thought it was a good issue, and one they should have taken. I'm going to do anything I can to win this case. I think the state ought to give it up."

The Gorwell case, a highly visible prosecution, was pursued by prosecutors after the death of Simmont Thomas, 14.

Officer Gorwell had been following a car in which the boy and three other youths were riding on Ellicott Driveway. The car had been stolen, according to court papers.

The car stopped, and four youths fled into the park, with the officer in pursuit. He fired one shot. The Thomas boy was hit in the back, according to court papers. The officer said he had heard a shot coming from the area where he saw the youths running from him. But no weapons or bullet casings were found, records show.

Officer Gorwell's first trial ended without a verdict in 1993, after prosecutors objected to going ahead with 11 jurors after one had been dismissed. The trial judge, Ellen M. Heller of Baltimore Circuit Court, then ruled that it would be unconstitutional "double jeopardy" to put the officer on trial a second time.

Judge Heller found that prosecutors had rejected the "reasonable alternative" of going ahead with fewer than 12 jurors, and had done so to manipulate the case into a mistrial to gain a better chance of getting a conviction on a second try. Defense attorneys had argued that the case seemed to be going against the prosecution -- an assessment prosecutors rejected.

That decision was overturned unanimously in July by Maryland's highest court, the Court of Appeals. The higher court said that prosecutors had presented a strong enough case to win a conviction and that there was no proof that they had sought to scuttle the trial through their right to object to a jury of fewer than 12.

Officer Gorwell has had an administrative assignment while his case has gone through appeals.

Taking his case to the Supreme Court, the officer urged the justices to rule that prosecutors must have a satisfactory explanation whenever they insist on procedures that force a mistrial. Unless a new trial is absolutely necessary, the appeal contended, prosecutors should be forbidden to force an end to the first trial and subject the accused to a second.

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