DeCosta asks judge to suppress confession Garris co-defendant's lawyer argues statement wasn't made voluntarily

July 23, 1996|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

Jane Frances DeCosta, 15, charged as an accessory in last year's fatal stabbing of a Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital counselor, moved yesterday to suppress a damaging confession which she allegedly told police she supplied the murder weapon, a hunting knife.

At a Baltimore County Circuit Court hearing, DeCosta's attorney, M. Cristina Gutierrez, called several witnesses to argue that considering the girl's age, mental state and police procedures -- used, her confession was not made voluntarily.

Richard F. DeCosta testified that when he picked up his daughter in Virginia -- where she had fled with killer Benjamin Scott Garris -- she was so calm and withdrawn that it frightened him. "She wasn't being Jane," he said.

Gutierrez also said that because Baltimore County Police Detective Carroll L. Bollinger did not have an arrest warrant when he took the teen to police headquarters for questioning, the confession should not be used at trial.

Miranda rights given

But Bollinger testified that the teen made her statement voluntarily. He said he spent about 45 minutes repeatedly advising her of her legal rights, including the right to remain silent.

He said that she declined to have a lawyer or her parents present when she gave her statement, and that she was congenial giving her responses.

She said she wanted to be charged as an adult and wanted the truth to be known, the detective testified.

DeCosta could receive life imprisonment if convicted on conspiracy and accessory charges arising from the October crime. Garris -- then her boyfriend and classmate at the Towson hospital's school -- has been found guilty of murdering Sharon Edwards at a residential cottage.

Edwards, 26, was a North Baltimore single mother working her first night as a counselor at Fordham Cottage, a licensed halfway house where Garris, 16, was a patient. He wanted to escape after learning he might be placed in a locked facility at the hospital.

'I didn't care'

In a six-page statement Jane DeCosta made Nov. 2 to Bollinger, she stated: "I was aware someone was going to die, but for some reason, I don't know, I didn't care."

According to Gutierrez, Jane DeCosta mentioned a Coke bottle of gasoline she gave to Garris, who tried to set fire to the cottage where two people were sleeping. The teen described the hunting knife she gave him, which he used to stab Edwards, the lawyer said. And she allegedly mentioned that she knew he planned to kill someone.

After the stabbing, she and Garris fled to Virginia Beach, where they were arrested within a month.

Legal defeats

Since then, her odyssey in court has been filled with defeats.

A county grand jury indicted her in November, despite her lawyer's position that there was no criminal intent on Jane DeCosta's part.

Judge Barbara Kerr Howe ruled in March that she would be tried as an adult, not a juvenile, meaning she could face a life sentence.

Admissibility at stake

Now, the admissibility of the statement is at stake. Prosecutors want to use it at trial to buttress their case by establishing her compliance.

The victim's sister believes DeCosta was more than compliant.

"She could have informed somebody that he was planning a murder," said Deborah Edwards, 43, who attended yesterday's hearing before Howe.

Pub Date: 7/23/96

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