Annapolis city police to further investigate vandalism of statue

Charges could return in racially tinged case

March 14, 2001|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Last summer's racially tinged vandalism of the Aris T. Allen statue has been returned to Annapolis city police for further investigation, after the county state's attorney's office completed its review.

State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee met with black community leaders yesterday to share a report from his top investigator on evidence in the Fourth of July vandalism.

Although a suspect was arrested, prosecutors dropped the charges when witnesses failed to show up for the trial Jan. 2. The decision outraged some in the black community who felt more should have been done to ensure the witnesses would testify.

"The bottom line is the case is still under investigation," said Carl O. Snowden, a civil rights activist who serves on the county executive's Cabinet.

During a meeting last month with members of RESPECT, a coalition of African-American leaders in the county that contributed to the $8,000 reward for an arrest and conviction in the case, Weathersbee explained that the witnesses wanted the reward money before they testified. Such a payment would have tainted the witnesses' credibility, Weathersbee said at the meeting Feb. 1 at Stanton Community Center.

The decision left open the option of reinstituting charges if police find more evidence or other witnesses.

"I will prosecute the case, if there is a case," Weathersbee promised then.

John M. Exner Jr., a 37-year-old Crownsville mechanic who had been charged with racial and/or religious harassment and destruction of property, expressed outrage this week that authorities were again looking into his whereabouts and activities at the time of the incident.

Exner said a county investigator had contacted his mother on the Eastern Shore to confirm his alibi.

"I can't believe this," he said. "They ought to be looking at [the man] who told police I did it."

A white pillowcase had been placed over the head, and Confederate flags taped to the hands of the statue of Allen, a prominent black Annapolis physician and state senator.

Court documents show that a couple from central Pennsylvania told police they overheard Exner boasting about the vandalism at an American Legion post in Edgewater.

But Exner said last month, "I wasn't even in town that weekend. I was in Salisbury helping my mother fix up her place."

According to Exner, he and Wayne Newman - identified in court documents as one of two witnesses - have long disliked each other.

Even if Exner is not charged again, Snowden said it was significant that civil rights groups now have a direct liaison with the state's attorney about such cases.

The vandalism did not meet the state's legal definition of a hate crime, Weathersbee found, because there was no permanent damage to the statue. A hearing on a bill that would change the state's definition of a hate crime is scheduled before the House Judiciary Committee on March 21.

Meanwhile, community leaders and Allen's relatives are considering moving the statue from its location on Chinquapin Round Road to another spot in Annapolis, in front of the Miller Senate Office Building.

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