More data in case allegedly withheld

Judge is `concerned' that state had more evidence in 1994 killing

May 09, 2000|By Caitlin Francke and Tim Craig | Caitlin Francke and Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

Nearly two years after Antoine Pettiford's conviction for first-degree murder was erased because prosecutors did not disclose critical evidence, a Baltimore judge said yesterday that she was "quite concerned" that additional evidence might not have been revealed.

Judge Ellen M. Heller's comments came at the end of a sometimes-heated hearing during which Pettiford's lawyer alleged that prosecutors and police had evidence that pointed to the real killers in the April 1994 fatal shooting but never investigated it and never gave it to the defense.

Pettiford's lawyers are seeking to vacate a manslaughter conviction that Pettiford accepted in a 1998 plea bargain. The agreement allowed him to leave prison after Heller found that key evidence was not disclosed to his lawyer at trial. His lawyers argue that more evidence, including a statement that fingered the shooters, was never turned over.

Yesterday, Heller, who made clear that her comments were not a ruling in the case, told the lawyers how she perceived the case after one day of testimony.

The hearing will continue May 22.

Heller said she was concerned that Detective Robert L. Patton mentioned only one statement given by a key witness, Dante Todd, when he testified about evidence in the case at a post-conviction hearing in May 1998.

Court records show that Todd made additional statements to Patton about who was to blame for the slaying of Todd's best friend, Oscar Edward Lewis Jr., at Preston and Gay streets in East Baltimore. The records were uncovered in the court file during an investigation by The Sun of Pettiford's case last summer.

Patton "never made any indication to anyone at any time that there was a second statement," Heller said in Baltimore Circuit Court. "He didn't mention it at any moment."

"These statements were known to the state in 1994. And it is now 2000. So, several years have gone by," she said.

Pettiford was convicted by a jury in 1995 of shooting Lewis. The conviction for first-degree murder was erased three years later after Heller ruled in the post-conviction case that key evidence -- a statement by Todd -- could have helped the defense but was never disclosed to Pettiford's attorneys.

Instead of seeking a new trial then, Pettiford, who had been in jail for four years, struck a deal with prosecutors that allowed a manslaughter conviction to be placed on his record so that he could be set free that day.

Pettiford's lawyer, Michelle M. Martz-Bowles, is seeking to have the manslaughter conviction stricken from his record and for him to stand trial to clear his name.

She testified yesterday that if she had had the information uncovered by The Sun, she would have urged Pettiford to stand trial again. The documents show that Todd told Patton, the detective, the names of two men he believed were the shooters in the case.

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