State court overturns convictions New trial ordered for man sentenced to die for two killings

Slayings took place in 1993

Prosecutors withheld crucial information, Court of Appeals says

November 19, 1997|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

The double-murder convictions and death sentence of an Anne Arundel County man were overturned yesterday by Maryland's highest court because prosecutors withheld information that defense lawyers could have used to cast doubt on the key state witness.

The Court of Appeals ordered a new trial for Darris A. Ware, who was convicted of murder in the slayings Dec. 30, 1993, of Betina Kristi Gentry, his former fiancee, and her friend Cynthia Vega Allen.

"There is a substantial possibility that result would have been different, and that the suppression of this evidence undermines confidence in the outcome of this case," the high court's opinion said.

The ruling focused on the actions of the state's attorney's office and prosecutor Gerald Anders. The court said Anders, Anne Arundel's deputy state's attorney, should have told Ware's public defenders that the key witness, Edward Anderson, was a convicted killer with a pending request to a Baltimore County judge to reduce his sentence of life plus 10 years.

There was no formal agreement stating that Anders would help Anderson get his sentence reduced. But the judges wrote that there could be a "strong inference" that Anderson expected exactly that in trade for his testimony.

In April 1995, Judge Joseph F. Murphy, sitting in Baltimore County Circuit Court, decided not to rule on Anderson's request until after Ware's trial scheduled later that year because Anders said he was cooperating with Anne Arundel prosecutors.

After the trial, Anders wrote to the Baltimore County court that Anderson had been "truthful and cooperative in every respect."

When defense lawyers asked on several occasions before and during the trial if any deal had been made with Anderson, Anders said there was not. Defense lawyers said that was why they did not request a transcript of Anderson's April hearing in Baltimore County, which would have alerted them to a discrepancy in Anderson's testimony.

Defense lawyers raised the same issues to Howard County Circuit Court Judge Dennis M. Sweeney, who presided over the murder trial, moved from Anne Arundel because of publicity.

Sweeney ruled that while prosecutors should have disclosed circumstances of Anderson's pending sentence reduction, defense lawyers should have sought that information themselves.

While Sweeney refused to grant a new trial because there was enough evidence to convict Ware, he said that Anders' "pinched and myopic view of what constitutes an agreement" would jeopardize the convictions.

"The duty of a prosecutor is to do justice," said Robert Waldman, one of two lawyers who represented Ware at trial. "Clearly, here, the prosecution forgot, or ignored, its duty to do justice."

Anne Arundel prosecutors defended their actions as "within all the legal guidelines" and promised to retry Ware, 26, formerly of Fort Pierce, Fla.

"We do not believe that the main issue put forth in the opinion would have affected the outcome in this case," said Kristin Riggin, spokeswoman for the state's attorney's office. "There was an overwhelming amount of evidence that served to convict Darris Ware."

But Anderson's testimony was crucial, Waldman said.

"He was the only one who placed Ware at the scene," said Nancy S. Forster, an assistant public defender who argued the appeal. Also, she said, prosecutors relied on Anderson's testimony to prove first-degree murder and then argue for the death penalty.

Anderson testified at the trial that on Dec. 30, 1993, he was talking on the phone from prison to Cynthia Allen, who was in the Gentry home on Bastille Court in Severn, when he heard screams and gunshots before the phone appeared to have been hung up there.

At his hearing in Baltimore County, Anderson testified that he heard two shots. But at Ware's trial, he testified that he heard two, then a pause before a third shot. Prosecutors used that pause and third shot to argue that the murders were premeditated.

Pub Date: 11/19/97

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