Double-murder conviction of Arnold man is overturned New trial ordered in deaths of lawyers

July 31, 1996|By Scott Wilson | Scott Wilson,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Court of Appeals overturned yesterday the double-murder conviction of Scotland E. Williams, ordering a new trial for the condemned Arnold man in the May 1994 slayings of two prominent Washington lawyers.

The state's highest court ruled unanimously that Williams was unfairly convicted last year on charges that he murdered Jose Trias and his wife, Julie Gilbert. The two were found dead in their Annapolis weekend home, hand-cuffed and shot in the head.

"Mr. Williams is once again presumed to be innocent," said Michael Braudes, a public defender who argued the Williams case before the Court of Appeals.

Anne Arundel County prosecutors pledged yesterday to retry Williams within six months.

Cynthia M. Ferris, the assistant state's attorney who prosecuted Williams, said she was "very frustrated and disappointed" with the ruling but expects to win a conviction in the second trial.

"This is as good a case in terms of evidence as I've had. And it's about as solid a case as I've tried," said Ferris. "The evidence was strong. We presented it very carefully. If there was one case I thought would get through the appeals process, it was this one."

Williams, 33, was arrested three days after the bodies were discovered. He was holding more than $2,000 in cash, which he allegedly stole from Gilbert's bank account by using her automatic teller card. He was identified from videotape taken at ATM machines.

Defense attorneys argued that Williams had commited the burglary, but not the murders. During his March 1995 sentencing, Williams said: "I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, but I think I should get it [the death penalty.]"

The appeals courtruled that Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Eugene M. Lerner made three crucial mistakes during the trial:

He did not allow defense attorneys enough latitude in challenging the credibility of DNA evidence.

He allowed prosecutors to question a defense witness about his juvenile crime record.

He should not have allowed the prosecution to admit a pry bar and a can of Mace into evidence.

Pub Date: 7/31/96

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