Charges dropped in slaying 4 teens agree to testify against 3 others in man's beating death

November 11, 1998|By Jamal E. Watson | Jamal E. Watson,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Caitlin Francke contributed to this article.

Prince George's County authorities have dropped murder and assault charges against four of seven teen-agers charged in the beating death of Salvadoran immigrant Gilberto Hernandez in Laurel, after they agreed to testify against the others, State's Attorney Jack Johnson said yesterday.

"There is no evidence to indicate that four of the young men had any contact with Gilberto Hernandez that night," Johnson said at an Upper Marlboro news conference where he released details of a grand jury investigation into the Sept. 4 slaying. "I'm not going to charge where there is no evidence."

Charged with first-degree murder and assault are Cochise I. Queen, 17, Kelly D. Martin, 18, and Steven Darby, 16, all of Laurel. Queen remains in the Prince George's County Detention Center; Martin and Darby have been released on $100,000 bond and are on home detention.

Agreeing to testify against them are Gerald Douglas Culbreath, 16, Sharif A. Sinkler, 17, Anthony Steven Barclay, 16, and David Burley, 17, also of Laurel. All four were released from the detention center Oct. 27.

Johnson said the four who have agreed to testify witnessed but did not take part in the beating, which police say happened as Hernandez was walking down a Laurel street after leaving his job as a dishwasher at the Four Seasons Buffet shortly after midnight.

Maria Hernandez, 28, sister of the victim, said yesterday the family had been told little about the case. "My opinion is that the whole family just wants justice," she said.

Residents in the blue-collar town of 20,000 have speculated that Hernandez might have been targeted because he was Hispanic -- the teen-agers are black -- but Johnson said the attack was not a hate crime. Prosecutors do not have a motive, however.

Johnson said that on the night of Sept. 4, the teens were in the parking lot in front of the Middletowne Apartments, where Hernandez lived with his brother.

He said that Hernandez was chased and hit the back of his head on the pavement after being knocked to the ground. While on the ground, he allegedly was kicked by several teens. He was rushed to the hospital by relatives immediately after the attack, but died four days later of internal bleeding and brain injuries.

"This was a brutal crime," Johnson said.

The details that led to the attack remain a mystery.

Laurel police have said that Hernandez was attacked after the teens unsuccessfully tried to rob him. But Johnson said there was no evidence to support that. "From what we know, robbery was not a motive," he said.

There also is a contradiction between the state's attorney's version of the incident and the account given to police by Juan and Thomas Hernandez, the victim's brothers.

The two said they saw their brother being beaten and saw several teen-agers wielding knives get into a car, which drove off. But Johnson said there is no evidence that any of the youths had knives in their possession that evening.

Johnson also said that the Hernandez brothers could not identify the teens who attacked their brother.

The Rev. Brian Jordan, a spokesman for the family, said he is happy that three of the seven teen-agers were indicted, but he said that he believes that the attack was motivated by robbery. "If this wasn't a robbery attempt or a hate crime, what was it?" Jordan asked.

Jordan criticized the state's attorney for not interviewing the brothers before the grand jury.

"The state's attorney is getting all of his information from what the four teen-agers released told them," Jordan said. "They never asked Juan and Thomas Hernandez what happened that night."

At the news conference, Johnson said the two brothers were not interviewed before the grand jury because of unspecified "legal reasons."

Yesterday, William Stagg, chairman of the Hispanic Advisory Committee of Prince George's County, said that he is "perplexed" by Johnson's statements that robbery played no part in the attack.

"We were told that this was a robbery that went bad," Stagg said. "I don't know how to square this with what the Laurel Police Department has told us and the results from the grand jury investigation."

He said that Hispanics throughout Prince George's County are still searching for answers. "We need to know what the motive was for the attack," Stagg said.

Pub Date: 11/11/98

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