Supreme Court throws out youth's conviction

March 10, 1998|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court wiped out yesterday the conviction of a Baltimore youth for his role in the 1993 fatal beating of another young man in a dispute over money.

The conviction of Kevin Domonic Gray was flawed, the court ruled by a 5-4 vote, because prosecutors used an edited confession to police by another youth who was involved -- a statement that unfairly pointed to Gray even though it was not supposed to be used against him.

Gray's name had been deleted from the confession. But the court majority said yesterday that the deletion was so obvious that it might well have called "the jurors' attention specially to the removed name."

Though the confession was barred as evidence against Gray, its edited version encouraged the jury "to speculate about the reference" to someone else involved. And, with Gray sitting at the trial next to the youth who confessed, the jurors had "an obvious answer" to their speculation about whose name had been deleted, Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote for the majority.

Gray was convicted of manslaughter in a case that prosecutors said grew from the terrorizing of a neighborhood along Wildwood Parkway in Baltimore. A jury convicted Gray of killing Stacey Williams. Five other youths also took part in the assault that led to Williams' death a few hours later.

Another youth, Anthony Bell, gave police a statement implicating himself, Gray and a third youth, Jacquain "Tank" Vanlandingham. In an unrelated incident, Vanlandingham was fatally shot two days after the beating.

Bell and Gray were tried together. Bell's confession could not legally be used against Gray because Bell did not testify at the trial and could not be cross-examined about it. The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to confront one's accusers.

Bell's edited confession was used at the trial, with the names of Gray and Vanlandingham replaced by the word "deleted." The jury was told to consider the confession for Bell only. Gray was convicted, and the Maryland Court of Appeals upheld his conviction early last year.

The Supreme Court rejected the state court's conclusion that Gray's rights had not been violated because he was not named as a participant in Bell's confession.

Pub Date: 3/10/98

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