Man convicted in death of officer seeks new trial Drugs made him incapable of murder, lawyer says

December 06, 1997|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

A man convicted in the 1986 traffic death of a Baltimore police officer is asking the Maryland Court of Special Appeals to grant him a new trial, saying he was too addled by illegal drugs to have committed a first-degree murder.

The crux of the argument is that Leonard P. Cirincione was to too high to have willfully killed Officer Richard Miller.

At least three psychiatrists would have testified at the 1987 trial that Cirincione was "severely intoxicated on PCP at the time of the offense," but they were never called as witnesses, said Cirincione's lawyer, Larry A. Nathans.

"It was critical testimony," Nathans said yesterday after oral arguments before the three-judge panel in Annapolis.

First-degree murder is defined legally as a deliberate act, Nathans said, so the issue of his client's drug use should have been better explored.

He argued that his client said he was binge-smoking the animal

TC tranquilizer for a week through June 12, 1986, the day Miller, 55, was struck by a car outside Memorial Stadium.

Miller died 39 days later, a day before his 33rd anniversary with the police force.

The same arguments did not persuade Baltimore Circuit Judge David B. Mitchell to grant Cirincione a new trial last December.

Convicted a decade ago of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and assault, Cirincione, 40, is serving a sentence of life plus 20 years.

Miller's family and city police are outraged at the possibility that Cirincione's conviction could be overturned because of a defense built on illegal drug use.

"As far as the PCP, are we condoning one crime over another? This is an excuse for killing somebody? I don't think so, not in my moral makeup," said Betty Miller, 62, the officer's widow.

"I am just fed up with this," she said.

"I don't think someone using illegal drugs should be able to use that as a defense for why they were intentionally running down a police officer," said Gary McLhinney, president of the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police.

Cirincione testified at his trial that he was a drug abuser for at least 15 years. He said he had smoked eight or nine PCP cigarettes within several hours before the incident and that he blacked out shortly before his car hit Miller.

Assistant Attorney General Gwynn X. Kinsey Jr., argued that before the trial, Cirincione told defense experts he was hallucinating and heard "odd laughter" before the incident.

One expert testified at the trial about PCP's effects. In appellate briefs, Kinsey said that not calling more experts was a strategic decision of Cirincione's defense lawyer at the trial, Dennis E. Cuomo, and that their testimony would not have made a difference.

Nathans argued that the other experts would have given the jury more information and bolstered the defense.

Pub Date: 12/06/97

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