Judge refuses new trial in slayings But he says conduct of prosecutor may put convictions at risk

February 25, 1996|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

A Circuit Court judge has refused to grant a new trial for a double murderer, but said questionable actions by the prosecutor may jeopardize the convictions on appeal.

Howard County Judge Dennis M. Sweeney said there was sufficient evidence to convict Darris Ware in the Dec. 30, 1993, shooting deaths of Betina Kristi Gentry and Cynthia Allen, both of Severn.

But he also said Gerald Anders, Anne Arundel County deputy state's attorney, showed a "highly unfortunate" ignorance of the law.

"The Court believes it is highly unfortunate that the prosecutor in this case, apparently ignorant of the nuances of modern [disclosure] law, employed a pinched and myopic view of what constitutes an agreement," Judge Sweeney wrote in a 42-page opinion issued Thursday.

Mr. Anders denied that he agreed to help reduce the sentence of Edward L. Anderson, who was in prison for life for a 1989 murder conviction, in return for his testimony against Ware last September.

Judge Sweeney, who was assigned the trial after Ware requested a transfer from Anne Arundel, said Mr. Anders should have disclosed to the defense that he had agreed to help Anderson.

Judge Sweeney said the agreement was evident in Mr. Anders' letter on Anderson's behalf to Baltimore County prosecutors. He said it also was evident in Mr. Anders' testimony for Anderson at a sentence reduction hearing and his supportive letter to the Baltimore County judge considering Anderson's sentence.

"The prosecutor's error will undoubtedly cast a troubling cloud over this case until its ultimate conclusion. By 'tacking too close to the wind,' the state has unnecessarily tainted the conviction and death sentence it worked so hard to obtain," Judge Sweeney said.

But the judge also faulted Ware's attorneys for not investigating public records that would have shown Anderson's request for a reduced sentence was pending when he testified against Ware.

"If the defense had done the diligent investigation concerning the [sentence] modification proceeding, counsel would have been able to attempt to impeach Mr. Anderson," Judge Sweeney wrote.

Mr. Anders declined to comment, but State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee said Friday that the ruling denying Ware a new trial was most important.

"The point is that the result is a correct one, no new trial, and we're very happy with it," he said.

Assistant Public Defender Robert Waldman, Ware's attorney, said he was concerned that, because a new trial was denied, the ruling could send the wrong message.

"I hope that prosecutors don't take this as a sign that they can hide things, that they can make agreements with witnesses and not tell the defense," Mr. Waldman said.

"If they're going to put somebody to death, they should play fair," he said.

Ware, 24, a native of Fort Pierce, Fla., was sentenced to death Oct. 4, 1995, by a Howard County jury after he was convicted by the same jury the previous week.

Ware had been seeing Ms. Gentry, and the two were quarreling shortly before the murders, testimony indicated. Both Ms. Gentry, 18, and Mrs. Allen, 22, were found shot in the chest and temple about 1 p.m. at the house that Ms. Gentry shared with her mother in the 1900 block of Bastille Court in Severn.

Anderson was a key witness, testifying that he was on a prison telephone with Mrs. Allen shortly before the murders. He said she told him Ware was at the house and that he heard fighting in the background and three gunshots before the phone line went dead.

Anderson's sentence reduction request is pending, said James O. Gentry, a Baltimore County assistant state's attorney.

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