Witness recants beating story

Police acknowledge doubts in conviction of Annapolis man

April 29, 1999|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

The key witness whose testimony sent an Annapolis man to prison for 30 years for nearly beating a bar owner to death has recanted and says he made up the story to save himself from a lengthy prison term in his drug case.

"I am trying to help him straighten this stuff out," Larry Michael Brown said in an interview yesterday with The Sun at a nursing home where he is being treated.

"I swear by Christ, by what is left of my right hand, it's the truth," Brown said, slowly raising a right arm that is twisted from a debilitating stroke he suffered in prison. He also has AIDS, and says he wants to clear his conscience.

From the time of his 1992 conviction for assault with intent to murder, Brady G. Spicer, now 42, has protested that he was wrongly convicted of nearly killing one of the owners of Armadillo's, a waterfront restaurant and bar in Annapolis.

"That's beautiful. I'm shocked. I'm happy," a jubilant Spicer said when told last night in the Anne Arundel County Detention Center about Brown changing his story.

Spicer said, "I'm glad he decided to do that. It's the truth and the truth is always the answer."

Brown did not surface as a witness until more than a year after the crime. Annapolis police had not solved it and were troubled by many aspects of what appeared to be a botched robbery. They were troubled later by Spicer's conviction.

"The story about him running past the Market House and I was coming out the back door -- that was fabricated," Brown said.

His speech slow and deliberate, Brown said, "I didn't see anything. But I was the main witness." He said Spicer never thanked him after the crime for keeping quiet, as he had testified.

Brown, 44, said an offer from the Anne Arundel County prosecutor's office to walk free in exchange for testimony -- he received a suspended sentence and was placed on probation -- was too good to turn down. Later, he was convicted of a probation violation and sentenced to eight years.

Brown said his lawyer, Gary Christopher, now a federal public defender, urged him to make a deal. At Spicer's first appeal, Christopher testified that what Brown told him was a far cry from what Brown told the Anne Arundel jury hearing Spicer's case.

Brown's reversal of his testimony occurred days after a private investigator working for Spicer's lawyers concluded that a polygraph examination showed Spicer was not involved in the Feb. 22, 1990, beating of Francis "Bones" Denvir.

"Oh, my God," said a shocked Carroll L. McCabe, one of Spicer's new defense lawyers, when told that Brown recanted. "It will be interesting to see if the state does the right thing now. I know he [Brown] did."

Told of Brown recanting his sworn testimony, State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee said his office will move quickly, but cautioned that Brown's latest account will have to be evaluated.

"We will set about getting an investigator and talk to him," Weathersbee said.

Brown, embittered by experiences with the criminal justice system, said he does not want to go into a courthouse again.

Defense attorney Nancy M. Cohen said she hoped Spicer would soon walk out of the Anne Arundel County jail.

She praised Brown for coming forward and said she understands why he lied.

"He was desperate. He was looking at potentially 20 years in jail and they were giving him a ticket out. Everyone knows how unreliable that kind of testimony can be," she said.

A federal judge in December found Brown's testimony unbelievable and Spicer's trial unfair.

U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte faulted prosecutors for not revealing that Brown had changed and improved his story and also criticized Spicer's then-lawyer James S. Salkin. Messitte ordered prosecutors to either retry Spicer or free him by today. But the attorney general's office has appealed that and the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear the case June 8.

Spicer's case lacked physical evidence, making three eyewitness identifications crucial to prosecutors. A second witness who saw the attacker run down an Annapolis street testified that Spicer looked "very familiar" -- but he had watched part of the trial before testifying.

A third witness, who chased the attacker from Armadillo's, picked Spicer from a photo after Brown gave Spicer's name to prosecutors. But Spicer is about half a foot taller than that witness' original description of the man he saw fleeing. Spicer said he could not have run so fast because of a knee injury.

Denvir was hit from behind in an upstairs office at the restaurant and said he did not see his attacker. But the person who beat him with liquor bottles broke every bone in his face before leaving nearly $1,500 behind and fleeing.

Disputes over the case began before trial. Arguments led to a shouting match between then-Assistant State's Attorney Steven M. Sindler, who sought Spicer's indictment and tried Spicer, and David Cordle, an investigator in the prosecutor's office. Later, Sindler blamed police for botching the case, and Annapolis police blamed him for a dubious conviction.

Annapolis police never considered Spicer, who has a criminal record, a suspect in the beating. They testified for him at a post-conviction proceeding. But the conviction was upheld after that and again by the state's Court of Special Appeals. Spicer petitioned the federal court in Baltimore.

After Messitte erased his conviction, Anne Arundel County prosecutors worked out a plea with Spicer's federally appointed lawyer to avoid a retrial. But Judge Eugene M. Lerner, who had heard the original trial, rejected the deal, which led prosecutors to ask the attorney general's office to appeal Messitte's ruling.

Pub Date: 4/29/99

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