Jury starts deliberating in double-slaying case Panel tells judge it has questions

May 27, 1998|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Jurors began deliberating late yesterday in the murder trial of Scotland E. Williams, after four hours of heated closing arguments in which the defense claimed the state's case was all "manufactured evidence and red herrings" and prosecutors accused the defense of creating a "smoke screen."

After deliberating for an hour, the jury quit for the evening after telling Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Pamela L. North that they had questions.

The trial enters its 14th day today, with deliberations set to resume at midmorning.

"The emperor has no clothes, ladies and gentlemen. The state has no case," assistant public defender Nancy M. Cohen said in a nearly two-hour assault on almost every item of evidence prosecutors are using to try to prove that Williams, 35, murdered two prominent Washington lawyers in their weekend home outside Annapolis.

Assistant State's Attorney Anne Colt Leitess discounted any notion that Williams just happened to have the victims' belongings and did not kill them, given that genetic material she said was remarkably like his and other trace evidence tied to him was found in the couple's home.

If convicted of murder in the deaths of Jose E. Trias, 49, and his wife, Julie N. Gilbert, 48, Williams could be sentenced to die. The Arnold man chose to be sentenced by North instead of the jury if he is found guilty, but the jurors do not know that.

The naked bodies of Trias and Gilbert were found May 16, 1994, in their bed. They had been shot in the back of the head.

Williams was convicted and sentenced to death in 1995, but the Maryland Court of Appeals overturned the verdict in 1996. It ruled that Judge Eugene M. Lerner unfairly allowed prosecutors to question a defense witness about his juvenile record and admitted a pry bar and Mace as evidence when there was no sign of a burglary. He also cut short defense challenges to the DNA evidence, which has become a linchpin of the trial.

The defense concedes that Williams can be found guilty of four theft charges and unauthorized use of Gilbert's red Acura. The lawyers acknowledged that a Maryland National Bank photo shows Williams driving Gilbert's car as he took money from her account, that he withdrew $3,000 from the couple accounts using their automated teller machine cards, and that he stole Gilbert's watch and cash.

But Cohen said Williams might have gotten those items from the killer. She said county police botched the case and then tried to pin the crime on Williams because he was convenient, though a killer clever enough to leave a nearly pristine crime scene would be too smart to stick his face in front of a bank camera.

Fibers at the house that matched Williams' brown gloves are meaningless, Cohen said, because red, black and blue fibers also were found on the tape used to stick a hand-lettered "on vacation" sign on the front door, but police did not try to match those.

Williams' shoe print -- a size 7 1/2 woman's shoe -- was found inside the couple's house, State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee told the jury.

But Cohen said DNA evidence from a drinking glass was contaminated by Cellmark Diagnostic's laboratory and that hairs found in the house were tested by the FBI using an unreliable technique.

Pub Date: 5/27/98

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