Murder trial key witness withdraws ID of suspects

March 09, 2000|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

In what could be a devasting blow to prosecutors, a key witness changed her testimony yesterday in the murder trial of three men charged in a 1995 homicide case that exposed widespread problems in the Baltimore justice system.

On the trial's first day, Nicole Ligons was expected to testify yesterday that she could identify the men who chased and shot her boyfriend, Shawn L. Suggs, in an ambush slaying in October 1995 in the 3400 block of Auchentoroly Terrace in North Baltimore.

But the witness testified she could not remember much from the day of shooting and could not say that what she told police four years ago was true.

The defendants, Jay Anderson, 22, William Harrison, 23 and Stacey Wilson, 30, are being tried on first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and handgun charges. A fourth suspect, Dontae Spivey, 22, -- who was convicted in the spring of murdering another man while awaiting trial in this case -- will be prosecuted separately.

All four were charged again in the killing this summer after the case was dismissed in January 1999 by a judge who ruled they had not received a speedy trial. Although an appeals court reversed that decision, the dismissal became a catalyst for court reform.

Ligons, who was with Suggs during the shooting, had told police shortly after the killing that Spivey was one of the gunmen. She later identified Anderson and Harrison from police photographs as among the men chasing her boyfriend.

But Ligons testified yesterday she was in the middle of an eight-year heroin addiction at the time of the shooting. She said she didn't recall anything about the suspects, giving the police statement or identifying the men from photographs. She said her heroin addiction might have affected her identification of Harrison from the photographs.

Prosecutor Vicki Wash asked Ligons to read her statement to police naming Spivey as the gunman. She replied: "I am not saying [the statement] is true, but I'm saying if it's down there, that is what I told" police.

Even before yesterday, prosecutors faced considerable obstacles. One witness, James Hines, was killed in a home-invasion in 1998. Another witness, Jo Ann Dow, has not been located. And police had mistakenly destroyed ballistics evidence.

The waivering testimony yesterday brought a sharp response from the victim's mother, Mamie Suggs, who believes Ligons fears for her life.

"I think she is afraid to tell the truth," Suggs said yesterday, noting that she is Ligons' friend. "It appears several witnesses have already been killed, so I think I would be afraid, too."

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