Man indicted second time in robbery of market

He's accused of using assault rifle in '99

first counts dropped


January 05, 2001|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

A Catonsville man accused of using an AK-47 assault rifle in the robbery of the Wilde Lake Giant Food store two years ago was indicted a second time by a Howard County grand jury yesterday, seven months after prosecutors dropped the first set of charges because of insufficient evidence.

The grand jury returned a seven-count indictment yesterday on armed robbery, assault and other related charges against Duane E. Curtis, 24, of the 1200 block of St. Agnes Lane.

Curtis, who was jailed not long after the robbery on an unrelated drug conviction, is also a recent prison escapee, according to a correction official. A correction spokesman said yesterday that Curtis, who was serving a five-year prison sentence, walked away from a work-release facility in Baltimore on Dec. 14.

Prosecutors said yesterday that the decision to drop the initial charges in the Giant robbery came out of their failure to convict Curtis' co-defendant, Armistead D. Myers.

Judge Lenore R. Gelfman threw out all charges against Myers, 26, in the middle of his jury trial in May, saying the state had not done enough to prove his involvement beyond the testimony of a woman who took part in the robbery and was granted immunity for her testimony. Ten days later, prosecutors dropped the charges against Curtis.

"After the result we got in the Armistead Myers case, we didn't believe there was sufficient evidence to go forward [against Curtis] at that time," said Assistant State's Attorney Keith Cave. But since then, "the investigation revealed additional information that puts the case in a different light."

According to court documents, two men walked into the Wilde Lake Giant store just before 11 p.m. Jan. 12, 1999, and robbed the store in a couple of minutes. One carried an AK-47 with a banana clip and ordered employees and customers near the front register to the ground. The other kicked in the front office door and took money from an open safe.

Two days later, a Howard County police officer found the car believed used in the getaway, a maroon Honda Passport, not far from the store. A few weeks after that, an Anne Arundel County patrol officer found an AK-47 in a Dodge Intrepid that had been left idling and was backed into woods on Whitehall Road.

Angela Watkins was found in the woods about 40 feet from the car and was taken into custody, according to court documents. Watkins was later offered immunity for her testimony against Myers and Curtis. At Myers' trial, she testified that she helped the two men plan the robbery. Watkins, a former Giant employee, said she cased the supermarket about an hour before the robbery, according to court documents. Myers is in prison on an unrelated drug conviction and cannot be recharged in Howard County.

First Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen M. Schenning declined to confirm this week whether the case was under investigation. Local court officials, including Myers' attorney, Michael D. Montemarano, said they have been told a federal investigation is under way in the Giant robbery. Federal law allows charges under the Hobbs Act for robberies of businesses that deal in interstate commerce.

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