Jury convicts 2 men in slaying

Dismissed charges in 1995 case sparked calls for court reforms

May 08, 1999|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

A 21-year-old West Baltimore man -- who had a murder charge against him dismissed in January in a case that highlighted the crisis in city courts -- found out yesterday that justice can be swift and harsh.

A Baltimore Circuit Court jury deliberated one hour before finding Dontae Spivey and co-defendant Donnell Harris, 21, guilty of first-degree murder in the drug-related, execution-style killing in September of 17-year-old Dameon Travon Burrell.

At the time of Burrell's killing, Spivey was out on bail in a 1995 murder case. In January, a Circuit Court judge dismissed the charges against Spivey and three co-defendants in that case. They had been awaiting trial for more than three years and their trial had been postponed a dozen times.

The dismissal of charges in the 1995 case came after a Maryland appeals court decision in December that limited a trial court judge's discretion to postpone a case beyond the state's six-month speedy trial deadline.

It also brought appeals for the reform of Baltimore's crowded and backlogged criminal court system that for months has had top city and state officials working on a solution.

Last month, key state legislators told Baltimore and Maryland justice officials that they would withhold millions of dollars from their budgets unless they initiate a detailed plan to improve the city's court system.

The dismissal of the 1995 murder charge against Spivey was not mentioned during the four-day trial this week of Spivey and Harris.

Spivey's attorney, Michael G. Middleton, said after the jury returned its verdict that he believed the dismissal was a factor in the way the case was prosecuted. "I think there was a push to make sure he was convicted," Middleton said. "They wanted Mr. Spivey and they got him."

Assistant State's Attorney Donald J. Giblin denied that the dismissal of charges against Spivey in the 1995 case affected his office's approach to the Burrell case. "We want to get anyone who executes someone in Baltimore City," he said.

Giblin, a supervisor in the state's attorney's office who appears in court only for the biggest and most sensitive cases, acknowledged: "I would be lying to say that the name Dontae Spivey didn't open our eyes a little bit. But in terms of our preparation, we didn't do anything different."

Harris' attorney, assistant public defender Janette E. DeBoissiere, declined to comment.

Spivey, a resident of the 2100 block of Callow Ave. in Reservoir Hill, and Harris, who lives in the 4000 block of Sanlee Road in Randallstown, could get life in prison plus 60 years for their convictions yesterday on charges of first-degree murder and related robbery, use of a handgun in a crime and drug distribution.

Circuit Judge Ellen M. Heller scheduled sentencing for June 29.

Spivey and Harris were arrested shortly after the body of Burrell, who lived in Reservoir Hill and knew Spivey, was found in the trunk of a car on a secluded street in Roland Park in North Baltimore.

In closing arguments yesterday, Middleton hammered away at what he called the "politics of prosecution," saying police and prosecutors made a hasty arrest of two young black men in an affluent, white enclave to placate demands to bring the case to a quick close.

"This is a case in a neighborhood of citizens we must satisfy," he said.

In his rebuttal, Gilbin told the jury of 12 women, 11 of whom were black, that the victim and the defendants were black and that the case wasn't about race but about guns and drugs.

Gilbin also noted that the murder weapon, the keys to Burrell's car and $11,000 worth of cocaine were found within several feet of where Spivey and Harris were stopped while walking on Roland Avenue.

"It would have to be an incredible set of circumstances" for those pieces of evidence to have come from anyone else, he said.

Pub Date: 5/08/99

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