Garris confession to be used in trial Teen's statement on death of woman was voluntary, says Balto. Co. judge

April 16, 1996|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

A detailed confession by Benjamin Scott Garris, who is charged with slaying a Towson psychiatric hospital counselor in October, can be used during the trial, a judge ruled yesterday in Baltimore County Circuit Court.

The Garris youth, 16, faces first-degree murder and other charges in the Oct. 8 stabbing of Sharon Edwards, 26, a North Baltimore woman. She was working her first overnight shift at Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital's Fordham Cottage, a licensed halfway house where the Frederick teen was living.

He is scheduled to stand trial as an adult beginning April 29.

In a pretrial hearing yesterday, the youth's attorney, Howard L. Cardin, sought to suppress the confession made Oct. 28 to Baltimore County Detective Carroll Bollinger in Virginia Beach.

The Garris youth, who had taken a bus there after the slaying occurred, was arrested at a convenience store after allegedly trying to steal cigarettes and candy.

His statement describes the scene as "a real horror show." He also wrote for police that Ms. Edwards, a single mother of a 7-year-old boy, pleaded for her life and he responded: "You're dead. That's right, and now you're nothing but a piece of meat."

Mr. Cardin said the Garris youth waived his right to legal counsel without knowing that his mother, Tina Marie Lee, had already hired an attorney.

Ms. Lee testified yesterday that she had called police headquarters in Virginia Beach, trying to get officers to pass a message to her son: "Let him know that I love him and that he has an attorney." Detective Bollinger testified that the message had not been given to the youth.

Mr. Cardin argued that the youth did not properly waive his rights. "There is the obligation -- in order to show an intelligent waiver -- to advise further: 'Your family has retained an attorney for you,' " he told Circuit Judge Barbara Kerr Howe.

But Assistant State's Attorney S. Ann Brobst said the youth gave his statement -- and passed up the chance for a lawyer -- voluntarily. When she questioned the detective, he testified that he asked several times if the youth wanted an attorney and that the answer was: "No need."

She also questioned the pale-faced Garris youth. He testified that he was not confused about his right to an attorney.

Other testimony showed that the youth had been concerned after his arrest for the whereabouts of Jane Frances DeCosta, 15. Miss DeCosta, who traveled with him to Virginia Beach, faces several accessory charges and a trial as an adult in the summer.

Detective Bollinger said the youth gave suggestions for finding her, and then began talking about the slaying until the detective interrupted to outline legal rights.

Immediately after the hearing, Judge Howe ruled that the statement was given voluntarily.

Pub Date: 4/16/96

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