Williams judge summons informant She wants to find out whether prosecutors violated court rules

August 14, 1998|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

The judge who will decide whether convicted killer Scotland E. Williams should be put to death told prosecutors to bring a Baltimore felon and informant to her Anne Arundel courtroom today so she can find out if prosecutors repeated testimony to him, a possible violation of state court rules.

The development threatens to extend the contentious sentencing hearing for the 35-year-old Arnold man into next week.

A jury convicted Williams in May of the 1994 murders of two Washington lawyers in their posh weekend home outside Annapolis, and he asked to be sentenced by a judge. This is the second conviction and sentencing, because the Court of Appeals overturned his 1995 conviction and death sentence.

"It goes without saying that you can't tell witnesses what was said in the courtroom," Circuit Judge Pamela L. North told the lawyers yesterday.

Prosecutors maintain their talks with Johnny Lee Baxter were not improper because he was not a witness when they spoke to him and not excluded from the courtroom. Neither side could explain why court computers generated a prosecution's subpoena for him to appear this week if neither side wanted him recalled for the sentencing hearing.

Prosecutors contacted him only after a defense investigator testified Tuesday that Baxter agreed in May to be a defense witness at the trial but fled when the investigator went to Baxter's home to drive him to court.

That left the impression that Baxter -- identified by defense lawyers as such a useful informant that the federal Drug Enforcement Administration was paying some of his fines -- was scared away by police or people linked to a convicted murderer (not Williams) who Baxter claims had the car of one of the victims in the Williams case a few days after the slayings.

What makes the issue important is that only the killer of the two attorneys -- Jose E. Trias and Julie N. Gilbert -- could be put to death. An accomplice could not. Prosecutors have maintained that no evidence ties anyone other than Williams to the slain couple's home, and that Williams acted alone.

The defense has spent much of the week on evidence and testimony that speculates someone else was involved in the crime. In closing arguments, Assistant Public Defender Nancy M. Cohen will argue that as long as it is possible another person was involved in the crime, Williams cannot be sentenced to die.

Williams will not testify.

Yesterday, North agreed to consider FBI reports the defense has obtained showing that two months after Williams' arrest, the FBI was following out-of-state leads. But prosecutors said the names, blacked out in the reports, were of Williams' brother, sister-in-law and her father. Police were tracking them to corroborate information and evidence they had against Williams, prosecutors said.

In arguments yesterday and Wednesday, Assistant State's Attorney Anne Colt Leitess said she called Baxter and told him what was said so she could find out whether the testimony was correct. She said because it was not, an Anne Arundel detective took his statement, and she wanted to use it to rebut what the defense said.

Defense lawyers said Leitess' actions were a violation of court rules and argued that Baxter was so influenced by prosecutors that his statement to police should be barred and he should not be allowed to testify.

But North said she needed instead "to ascertain exactly what was said to him." She warned prosecutors that if they could not produce Baxter, she might not allow the statement into evidence.

Prosecutors could choose not to call Baxter. They have in evidence what they say was Williams' to-do list, which included a "hit" on a residence, and testimony about Williams' failed escape from prison. They will argue that only Williams had the victims' bank cards, car and jewelry -- though a partner in the crime would have wanted some of those items.

Pub Date: 8/14/98

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