Baltimore prosecutors salvaged a case against four men charged with one of the city's worst mass killings when a judge agreed yesterday to reduce the eight-month delay he ordered because evidence was not promptly turned over.
Circuit Judge David B. Mitchell ordered three defendants to stand trial June 11, trimming the delay that otherwise would have stalled the cases until September.
Mitchell acted after Assistant State's Attorney Lawrence C. Doan asked that one defendant, Tariq A. Malik, be tried separately, allowing the other defendants to go to trial sooner. Malik's lawyer also represents a defendant in a lengthy federal death-penalty case, which prevents him from being able to argue Malik's case until September.
The trial against the men had been set for last month, but two weeks ago Mitchell angrily ordered an eight-month postponement because prosecutors hadn't provided defense attorneys with potentially important evidence. Mitchell refused to rule that the delay was for "good cause," opening the door for defense attorneys to seek dismissal based on violations of their clients' speedy-trial rights.
Yesterday, Mitchell gave the delay his stamp of approval -- all but ensuring the charges will not be dismissed. Still, he said the postponement was the prosecutors' fault because they did not turn over statements given to police until another judge ordered them to on the eve of trial.
That could allow Malik to make an argument in September that he was denied a speedy trial because of prosecutor error. "The delay of this matter ... shall be laid at the feet of the state," Mitchell said.
The men facing trial are: Malik, 21, of the 1400 block of S. Kossuth St.; Robert Bryant, 24, of the 1200 block of Cavendish Way; Travon McCoy, 22, of the 1800 block of E. Biddle St.; and Ismail Malik Wilson, 28, of the 2400 block of E. Eager St.
They are accused of killing five women, who were related, in a rowhouse in the 3500 block of Elmley Ave. on Dec. 5, 1999.
Police said the killings were meant to send a message to the women's relatives who were involved in a drug dispute.
The victims were Levanna Spearman, 23; Mary Helen Collien, 56; Makisha Jenkins, 18; Mary McNeil Matthews, 39, and Trennell Alston, 26.
Collien was Matthews' mother and Jenkins' grandmother.
At issue were two statements given to police investigators that recount conversations with Ronald P. McNeil, an eyewitness and the only survivor of the shooting. McNeil's mother, sister and niece were among the women killed.
McNeil, who has been charged in a revenge killing in January 2000, told friends that he believed at least five other men in addition to the defendants were responsible for the crime.
Defense attorneys accused prosecutors of withholding the statement during the exchange of evidence, known as discovery. Prosecutors responded that they did not turn over the information because they did not believe it was "exculpatory," or able to help prove the defendants' innocence.
Yesterday, Doan said he did not know about the statements until January. He said they were given to police as part of the investigation into the killing McNeil is charged with.
"We have bent over backwards. We've tried to be clear. We've tried to be fair," Doan said.