Witness vital to inmate's release

Prosecution says man won't go free without ex-accuser's word

April 30, 1999|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County prosecutors and the defense lawyers for a man they say was wrongly convicted in a brutal assault agree that any chance of freeing him from prison hinges on whether a key witness who recanted his eyewitness account this week will talk to them.

So far, however, Larry Michael "Blackjack" Brown said he will never set foot in a courtroom and does not trust prosecutors enough to talk to them.

The Anne Arundel County state's attorney's office said that without questioning Brown themselves, they will not take steps to further investigate the high-profile case Brady G. Spicer has been appealing since his 1992 conviction.

Defense lawyers said they would try to reopen Spicer's failed post-conviction hearing based on Brown's withdrawal of his testimony and add this to Spicer's pending federal case, but they need a sworn statement from Brown.

"I got it off my chest and that's it," Brown said. "What I told them about Brady [at trial] is not true."

His remarks came two days after Spicer, 42, took a lie-detector test authorized by the defense, which the examiner said showed Spicer was not involved in the crime. Polygraph tests, which are not foolproof, are inadmissible in court.

Brown, 44, told The Sun on Wednesday that he lied about seeing Spicer sprint from a waterfront Annapolis restaurant after one of the owners, Frances "Bones" Denvir, was beaten nearly to death Feb. 22, 1990. Brown said he was seduced by an offer of a suspended sentence and probation in his own drug case.

"I wasn't going to jail for no 20 years," Brown said. He said he understood that authorities would "leave me alone," and he was tired of frequent police questioning, arrests and raids.

But he was soon convicted of a probation violation and the suspended sentence was imposed.

"They threw me away," Brown said.

During that sentence, he suffered a stroke.

"I thought he was lying the whole time," said John W. Wright, the now-retired Annapolis police captain who oversaw his department's investigation. "Out of my entire career, this is one case that stands out as being the wrong person."

Spicer's prosecutor felt police botched their investigation and investigators felt the conviction was so dubious they testified for Spicer at his post-conviction proceeding. Unconvinced that the right man was being indicted, an investigator with the state's attorney's office had a shouting match with the prosecutor in the case.

Wright said that after Spicer's conviction for assault with intent to murder, he and a detective voiced concerns to State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee, who pointed to Spicer's jury conviction.

Weathersbee has continued to note that state courts upheld the conviction.

Kristin Riggin, Weathersbee's spokeswoman, noted that Brown was only one of three witnesses to identify Spicer.

"Our office had three eyewitnesses," she said.

Neither of the other two witnesses who testified responded to requests for interviews.

One had watched part of the trial before testifying, despite a rule barring witnesses from the courtroom. The other, a bartender at the restaurant, told police the man he chased was about 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighed about 165 pounds, then later identified Spicer, who is about 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighed more than 200 pounds.

Last night, Denvir said he didn't know what to make of Brown recanting.

"Here's a guy who seems to sing a different tune all the time," he said.

But, he said, he hoped justice would be done, whatever justice is.

Annapolis police were unable to figure out who viciously beat Denvir, the popular owner of Armadillo's restaurant and bar.

More than a year after the crime, with Denvir still recuperating and unwilling to talk more to police, Brown gave Spicer's name to an Anne Arundel County prosecutor and felt pressured to tell more to avoid prison. He said Spicer asked him about Armadillo's a day or so before the crime, saw Spicer sprint from the restaurant, and that Spicer later thanked him for keeping quiet.

A federal judge ruled in December that the trial was flawed and unfair. Peter J. Messitte ordered local prosecutors to either retry or free Spicer by yesterday, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit has stayed that pending a challenge by the attorney general's office.

Eugene M. Lerner, who presided over Spicer's trial, sentenced him to 30 years, and in January refused a plea that would have freed Spicer, declined to comment on the case.

Pub Date: 4/30/99

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