Judge's wiretap approval upheld

Evidence, confession in Prothero killing cleared for trial use

September 07, 2000|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore County Circuit judge ruled yesterday that police acted within their authority when they used information obtained from a wiretap to track down and arrest the first of four suspects charged in the killing of Sgt. Bruce A. Prothero.

Lawyers for Troy White argued before Judge John G. Turnbull II that the wiretap was illegal and that evidence gathered after White's arrest - including his confession and a stolen watch - should be inadmissible.

"But for the interception of these phone lines, the state wouldn't have the evidence against Troy White that they have," said Jonathan P. Van Hoven, one of White's lawyers.

Prothero, 35, was shot and killed as he chased four suspects out of J. Brown Jewelers in Pikesville after an armed robbery that netted $438,000 in watches. The father of five was working part-time as a security guard at the store.

White, 25, was arrested Feb. 8 after police allegedly heard him offer to sell some of the stolen watches to a suspected drug dealer whose telephone was tapped. He was arrested at an acquaintance's home in the 1000 block of N. Ellamont St. in Baltimore after police traced one of the calls to the address.

After his arrest, White gave a statement to police admitting his role in the robbery. Police also found one of the stolen watches under a cushion on a couch where White had spent the night.

Jury selection in White's trial is scheduled to start this morning.

In a pretrial hearing yesterday, White's lawyers argued that county Circuit Judge Kathleen G. Cox should not have approved the wiretap of the drug suspect's five phones because police failed to exhaust other investigative efforts, a state statute requirement.

"It was inappropriate right from the beginning, the state failed to establish a need," Van Hoven said.

Cox's wiretap order, sealed yesterday, limited police to listening to conversations about the target's suspected drug activity, Van Hoven argued. Police overstepped their bounds when they listened to conversation between the suspect and White, he said.

In more than 40 conversations between Jan. 7 and White's arrest on Feb., 8, White and the suspect talked like old friends about subjects such as playing poker, going to car auctions and girlfriends, Van Hoven said.

"What the police are hearing is conversation between good friends," he said. "These calls have nothing to do with drugs," he said.

Assistant State's Attorney Frank C. Meyer said police were authorized to listen to White's calls because he could have been part of the suspected drug activity. White bragged about his crimes in the conversations, telling the suspect he had jewelry to sell that had been stolen in earlier armed robberies, Meyer said.

"We are not obligated to turn off the [wiretap] machinery when we hear Troy White's voice," he said.

Meyer said that prosecutors have no intention of using the wiretapped conversations as evidence at White's trial. But he said that the tap was legal because Cox had probable cause to believe that the target was engaging in drug activity when she authorized it.

Jury selection in the case is expected to be completed by tomorrow, (with opening statements tentatively scheduled for Monday.

Troy White is the second of four defendants to be tried in the slaying. Donald Antonio White, 19, is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 20; he was convicted last month of first-degree felony murder, armed robbery and a handgun violation.

Wesley John Moore, 25, is scheduled to be tried before Judge James T. Smith Jr. on Jan. 22.

The trial of Richard Antonio Moore, 30, the alleged shooter, was ordered moved to another jurisdiction. The date and location have not been set.

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