Letter tipped slaying suspect to arrest Lawyer's solicitation arrived before police

December 03, 1997|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Caitlin Francke contributed to this article.

The man charged last week in the slaying 13 years ago of an Ellicott City woman learned of his impending arrest from a lawyer hoping to represent him in the case and fled before surrendering to authorities.

Howard County police and prosecutors expressed outrage yesterday at an action they say could have undermined the investigation of Kenneth Allen White and endangered the lives of investigators.

"What if the individual decided to have a violent reaction, shoot through the door?" said Sgt. Steven E. Keller, spokesman for Howard County police, which helped serve the warrant with Lebanon County, Pa., police.

White, 47, received a letter from Columbia attorney Gregory Nugent telling him he had been charged with a crime in Howard County and might need representation, according to police. The letter was generated by a service that combs court records for a fee and sends out notices advertising legal representation to people charged with crimes.

Though this service is legal in Maryland, the letter caused trouble, police said, because the warrant was issued four days before officers arrested White in the slaying of Sandra Lee Taylor, and the service was able to notify White ahead of time.

Nugent, who recently moved from Illinois where he was a prosecutor for seven years, said yesterday he didn't think what he did was wrong. He said that he knows other attorneys who use similar services and that he learned of the service through a newspaper advertisement.

He ordered 32 letters sent to potential clients and eventually received a phone call from White, he said. But Nugent, who said he is not representing White, refused to discuss his conversation with White or when it occurred.

Nugent also said he didn't know whether the warrant had been served when the letter was sent.

The letter, dated Nov. 21, the day after the warrant was issued, begins: "It has come to my attention through the records of the District Court that you have been charged with a crime." Without making reference to the specific charge, the letter urges White to retain an attorney -- Nugent.

Nugent, 35, who just started practicing law in Maryland a month ago, said yesterday, "I can understand that police are upset, but I don't want to get sandbagged."

But Assistant State's Attorney Bernard Taylor said he has serious problem with lawyers who would use such tactics.

"Lawyers who do this should think about consequences of getting a client" at the risk of "a dead cop somewhere," Taylor said.

On Nov. 24, Howard County police and Lebanon County police went to White's home in Lebanon to arrest him. But instead of surprising the suspect, they found his brother standing outside the apartment door.

The brother told police that White had learned of his impending arrest through the letter from the lawyer and was hiding, police said. Investigators then persuaded the brother to find White and urge him to surrender to authorities.

That evening, White surrendered to Lebanon city police. White, an unemployed truck mechanic, has been charged with first-degree murder in the 1985 death of Taylor, 31. Taylor's body was discovered in a Howard County streambed in 1995 by state environment workers.

Police said that White, who had long been suspected by investigators, was seen with Taylor on the evening of her death at a local bar. Investigators only recently discovered evidence needed to make an arrest, police said.

White remains in jail in Lebanon County, awaiting an extradition hearing.

It is unclear whether Nugent could be subject to penalties or discipline under the code that governs attorneys. The part of the code that deals with client-seeking does not prohibit targeted mailings or contain references to the timing of those letters.

Pub Date: 12/03/97

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