Details in killing of officer revealed

Charging documents say Cowdery was shot in head while wounded

Motive remains mystery

March 22, 2001|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

A gunman who killed a Baltimore police officer last week first shot the officer in the leg and then grabbed him and shot him in the head as he lay disabled on the sidewalk, court documents filed yesterday say.

The shooting March 12 of Agent Michael J. Cowdery Jr., 31, in the 2300 block of Harford Road, happened so quickly that by the time a colleague of Cowdery shouted "Gun," it was too late to react, the documents say.

Revealing new details in the killing, charging documents filed in District Court say that as Cowdery - who was wearing plainclothes but had his badge around his neck - lay wounded on the pavement, the shooter stood over him, grabbed him and shot him "in the head at close range."

The suspect, Howard T. Whitworth, 26, was shot and wounded during an ensuing gun battle with two officers.

He was released from Maryland Shock Trauma Center to the city Detention Center Monday and yesterday made his first court appearance, during which his court-appointed lawyer, Assistant Public Defender John P. Markus, waived the bail hearing.

Whitworth was ordered back to the Detention Center, where he will await a possible indictment in Circuit Court, which is the usual procedure and could happen within a month.

Markus could not be reached for comment yesterday. His client, with no permanent address, is charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, reckless endangerment, using a handgun in the commission of a felony and possession of a handgun.

Whitworth could face the death penalty. Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris said he plans to discuss that issue with the state's attorney's office.

The charging documents filed yesterday provide new details but do not offer a solid motive.

Even the surrender of a key witness, William A. "Mookie" Houston, 20, who was sought for several days before turning himself in to be questioned, has not helped. Houston has been released.

Norris said yesterday that interviews with witnesses haven't "shed any light on the motive in this case."

Police said they suspect Cowdery interrupted a drug market and was mistaken for a rival dealer harassing the crew. The suspect had reportedly bought a .357 Magnum handgun recently because he had been held up, investigators have said. Police said he had 40 vials of crack cocaine on him when he was arrested. Police say they do not know if the suspect knew Cowdery was an officer.

Cowdery and three of his colleagues - also in plainclothes with their badges around their necks - had stopped to question two men outside a carryout on Harford Road about 10:15 p.m.

Officers Robert L. Jackson and Ronald A. Beverly chatted with the two people as Cowdery talked with a woman leaving the carryout.

Police said a gunman turned the corner at Cliftview Avenue and ran up to the officers, whose back was turned to him, and pulled a gun - determined to be a .357 Magnum.

The court documents say Officer Tiffany D. Walker saw the gunman approach and yelled, "Gun" just as the man opened fire, hitting Cowdery. The second shot, to Cowdery's head, was fired a split-second later.

Walker ducked into the carryout and Jackson and Beverly "moved to other areas of cover," the documents say. Police said Walker, from the carryout's front door, fired at the gunman, who fired at Beverly. Beverly, struck in the leg and ankle, returned fire and hit the gunman, police said.

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