Claims of innocence may have been true

Arrests in slaying suggest wrong men jailed for stealing gun

May 18, 1999|By PETER HERMANN | PETER HERMANN,SUN STAFF

Two men convicted of stealing a Baltimore police officer's gun six months ago went to jail professing their innocence. Now, police say the wrong men may be behind bars.

The apparent error was discovered after the arrests last week of two other men, who police now say stole the weapon from the officer and used it to kill a retired officer.

Yesterday, authorities said they might throw out the convictions against Reno Mabrey, 19, and Arnold Handy, 20, and free them from jail, where they have been since being arrested Nov. 9.

"Absolutely, the state will do the right thing," said E. Francine Stokes, a spokeswoman for the city state's attorney's office.

No deadline for the review was given, but Warren A. Brown, defense lawyer for the jailed men, said he expects the charges to be dismissed soon.

Faced with evidence against his two clients that he called "overwhelming" -- eyewitness testimony from a civilian and the police officer who owned the gun -- Brown accepted a deal offered by prosecutors in April.

Instead of risking a trial that could have sent Mabrey and Handy to prison for at least 20 years on armed robbery charges, he persuaded them to plead guilty to misdemeanor theft.

"They denied they were involved with it at all," Brown said. "But that's nothing unusual. I tell [clients] that it's not a question of whether you're innocent. The jury is going to decide. You got a cop identifying one of them and another witnesses identifying the other."

Baltimore police said they are reviewing their investigation, which includes sworn testimony from the officer who was robbed of her weapon outside a Pigtown McDonald's on Nov. 9. Helena Mills took the witness stand during a pretrial hearing last month and identified one of the suspects as her attacker.

Police spokesman Robert W. Weinhold Jr. said there is no reason to believe detectives did anything wrong. Mills was on vacation and could not be reached for comment; investigators said they have not discussed the case with her.

On Friday, police said Christopher Williams, 27, and Kevin Blackmon, 21, had been charged with first-degree murder in the Nov. 27 shooting of Oliver T. Murdock, a 73-year-old retired officer. Police said Murdock was killed outside his West Baltimore home with Mills' stolen gun.

Links to other crimes

Homicide investigators faced TV cameras and confidently announced to reporters that Williams and Blackmon were linked "to all the crimes," including the robbery of Mills. They also linked a string of other holdups and another shooting to the department-issued 9 mm Glock.

The officials did not mention that two men had already been convicted in the robbery of Mills. Yesterday, police said they had started to investigate the earlier convictions in light of the new charges.

Williams and Blackmon have thus far been charged only in connection with Murdock's shooting. But police repeated yesterday that it is Williams and Blackmon, not Mabrey and Handy, who are the prime suspects in the robbery of Mills.

"Robbery detectives initially received information which led them to charge [Mabrey and Handy] with the armed robbery," Weinhold said. "However, homicide detectives were able to uncover updated details about the crime, which [have] now refocused the investigative light onto Mr. Williams and Mr. Blackmon."

One of the newly uncovered details, investigators said, is the weapon itself. Detectives said they found Mills' 9 mm Glock in Williams' house in the 300 block of S. Ballou Court, in Southeast Baltimore, where they arrested him Thursday night during a raid.

Police officials could not say yesterday how the wrong people may have been arrested in the case. A review of court files and the initial police report indicates that Mills confronted Mabrey and Handy moments after two men had allegedly robbed the McDonald's in the 700 block of Washington Blvd.

Detective Donald Grant of the robbery unit wrote in a report that Mills identified Mabrey as the person "who displayed a small silver handgun and pointed it at Police Officer Mills." The report says that two unidentified witnesses saw the men drive away in an older model white pickup truck.

Grant said yesterday that he properly investigated the case against Mabrey and Handy, but declined to comment further. He referred questions to Detective Homer Pennington of the homicide unit, the lead investigator in the Murdock shooting, who deferred to the state's attorney's office.

Brown said the truck was found at the home of one of his clients, along with a sweat shirt that a witness had said was worn by one of the holdup men at the McDonald's. But Mills' weapon and money, taken after the restaurant robbery, were not recovered.

Mabrey and Handy were held at the City Detention Center until a court hearing in April, at which Brown tried to have the witness identifications thrown out of court. But he said a McDonald's employee identified Handy, and Mills pointed out Mabrey.

Alford pleas entered

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