State Court of Appeals upholds conviction of rapist Decision backs procedure in using DNA evidence

March 21, 1996|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

The state's highest court yesterday upheld the conviction of a five-time rapist sentenced to two life terms in December 1992 for breaking into an Ellicott City home and raping a woman.

Michael Devon Armstead, 36, of Brooklyn Park, had no right to a pre-trial hearing to question the reliability of DNA evidence linking him to the 1991 rape, the Court of Appeals ruled.

Armstead's lawyers argued that probability calculations used by prosecutors to match his DNA to that taken from the victim were outdated and unreliable.

But the court ruled that a 1989 state law permitting use of DNA made it unnecessary to hold a so-called Frye-Reed hearing to resolve questions about the reliability of scientific evidence.

Judge Irma Raker said a statute qualifying DNA as evidence gave then-Howard Circuit Judge Cornelius F. Sybert Jr. authority to deny the hearing request.

"The legislature intended DNA profile evidence to be admitted without evaluation of the technique's general reliability," Judge Raker wrote in a 59-page decision.

Les Gross, deputy state's attorney in Howard County, said he had not seen the decision late yesterday, but that he was "very pleased" with the outcome.

"Obviously from a law enforcement standpoint and from a criminal justice standpoint, we're very pleased the Court of Appeals has apparently ruled on DNA's inherent reliability," he said.

Armstead pried open a garage window at the victim's home Jan. 29, 1991, and lunged at the 30-year-old victim as she went to investigate noise from the break-in.

The victim testified that Armstead, who was wearing a stocking over his head, demanded money and jewelry and led her through the house as he looked for valuables. When they got to the kitchen she showed him her wallet containing $2.

He forced her to perform a sex act and have intercourse, and afterward bound her hands behind her back with duct tape. He then took her outside, where he fled and she ran to neighbors to call police.

The victim gave police a description that matched Armstead and selected his photo from an array of pictures. He also was identified by a neighbor who saw him running from the victim's house. When he was arrested on the night of the attack, he was wearing a leather jacket that matched the description given by ++ the victim, according to testimony.

The jury convicted Armstead of two counts each of first-degree rape and burglary and one count each of first-degree sexual offense, second-degree sexual offense, perverted sexual practices, assault and attempted robbery.

Judge Sybert, who has since retired, sentenced him to two consecutive life terms plus 20 years. The sentence was in addition to five life sentences Armstead already was serving for rapes in Anne Arundel County.

Pub Date: 3/21/96

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