Man pleads guilty to perjury after reneging on sentence deal Stewart told 2 stories in brother's murder case

March 24, 1998|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

A Landover man who reneged on a deal with prosecutors last year when he identified a dead neighbor as a murderer instead of his brother pleaded guilty yesterday to perjury in Anne Arundel Circuit Court.

Joseph L. Stewart, 22, told a grand jury in June that his brother, William D. Stewart, 25, shot at the back of a car in the parking lot of a Crofton pool hall in March 1995, prosecutors said. Catherine Elizabeth Webster, 16, of Bowie died after being shot twice in the head as she sat in the back seat of the car.

When prosecutors called Joseph Stewart to testify at his brother's murder trial in November, he changed his story.

He told the trial jury that he lied to the grand jury to get back at his brother and because he thought police would figure out the real story. He said another man, by that time dead, was the shooter and that William Stewart was not in Crofton March 20, the night of the shooting.

The jury convicted William Stewart of first-degree murder and eight other counts after a three-day trial that included a co-defendant and a witness who identified him as the shooter. Circuit Judge Eugene M. Lerner sentenced him in January to life in prison plus 30 years.

"You didn't gain anything by your perjury; that's fairly obvious," Circuit Judge Clayton Greene Jr. said yesterday before sentencing Stewart to three years in state prison. The maximum sentence was 10 years.

Stewart will serve that time in addition to the eight-year sentence he is serving on unrelated federal charges and a 13-year sentence for his role in the Crofton shooting.

Webster's relatives were in court yesterday to watch the last defendant in the murder case plead and be sentenced. Outside the courtroom afterward, they declined to comment.

Before testifying in the murder trial, Stewart pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit armed robbery and agreed to testify for prosecutors in return for a five-year sentence on the conspiracy charge.

His change in testimony nullified that deal.

Assistant State's Attorney Kathleen Rogers said her office rarely prosecutes defendants for perjury because people don't often contradict themselves on material facts while under oath.

Stewart, while under oath, told a grand jury that his brother was the shooter, then, also under oath, told a trial jury his brother was not the shooter.

Rogers said she thought Stewart might change his testimony but that she put him on the witness stand because she thought the jury would believe he was more likely to lie during the trial than to a grand jury.

"I knew that a jury would understand a brother now saying, 'My brother didn't do it' and see that he wasn't truthful," Rogers said after the hearing.

Stewart's lawyer, public defender Alan R. Friedman, said he explained to Stewart the consequences of presenting conflicting testimony before his client took the stand in the murder trial.

Stewart spoke briefly during the proceeding yesterday.

"I just want to apologize; there's really nothing else I can say," he said.

Pub Date: 3/24/98

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