Prosecutors to appeal ruling in beating trial

U.S. appeals court says convicted man did not get fair trial

January 27, 1999|By Kris Antonelli and Andrea F. Siegel | Kris Antonelli and Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County prosecutors are appealing a federal judge's ruling that a man convicted of savagely beating an Annapolis restaurant owner did not receive a fair trial.

The decision to ask the conservative 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to review the case came two days before the deadline and five days after a local judge angrily refused to accept a plea that would have set Brady G. Spicer, 42, free.

Spicer was convicted of assault with intent to murder in the February 1990 attack on Francis "Bones" Denvir, then part owner of Armadillo's at the City Dock, and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

"We are doing this to keep our options open," said Kristen Riggin, a spokeswoman for the county state's attorney office. The judge "gave us 120 days to retry him, and this is a way for us to continue looking at our options," she said.

Last month, U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte found, among other things, that the prosecution's star witness was unreliable, that Spicer didn't fit the description given by one witness and that Spicer's lawyer did not adequately represent him.

The appeals court has gained a reputation for favoring prosecutors and has reversed the last 31 similar petitions granted by lower federal courts, legal scholars say.

Spicer's lawyer, Jonathan P. Van Hoven, said yesterday that he is not worried.

"I know what we are up against, but I think we have a good case," he said. "We think we have a good case and the 4 Circuit should uphold it."

Prosecutors are wary of the pitfalls of retrying a 9-year-old case. Assistant State's Attorney Thomas J. Pryal has said it could be hard to find witnesses who remember what happened.

Spicer has maintained his innocence.

Spicer's lawyers argued that their client did not receive a fair trial because prosecutors did not tell them beforehand that Larry Brown, a felon who had claimed that Spicer made incriminating statements before and after the beating, changed his story. They lost an appeal to the state Court of Special Appeals before Messitte agreed that Spicer had not received a fair trial.

Last week, Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Eugene M. Lerner, who had presided over Spicer's trial and ordered the maximum sentence, refused to accept the plea arrangement that both sides had agreed would end the case. He chided prosecutors for not appealing the federal ruling and said Messitte was wrong, that Spicer had received a fair trial.

Denvir was attacked Feb. 22, 1990, while he was working in the second-floor office of the restaurant.

Pub Date: 1/27/99

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