Defense shifts focus in killing

Police harassment alleged in trial in Prothero's death

April 02, 2001|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Lawyers for Wesley Moore, on trial in the killing of Baltimore County police Sgt. Bruce A. Prothero, are using the same strategy that persuaded a city jury to acquit a man in January in the death of a city police officer.

They are putting the police on trial.

Prothero, a father of five, was shot three times Feb. 7, 2000, as he chased four men out of the J. Brown Jewelers store in Pikesville, where he was working a second job as a security guard.

During the first week of Moore's trial, three witnesses - all with ties to Moore - recanted earlier statements to police and told a jury of seven white people and five African-Americans they were targets of police harassment.

"I'm always being harassed in the neighborhood," William Hawkins, a friend of Moore's, told jurors.

Legal experts say that defense lawyers often hope witness claims about police harassment will hit home with jurors who may be hostile to police or skeptical about their tactics.

"What you want is one juror who says, `All right, the poor man is dead, but I can't condone police misconduct,'" said Warren A. Brown, a city defense lawyer not involved in the case. "Keep in mind that all they need to hang this case up is one juror."

A city jury deliberated four hours in January before acquitting Eric D. Stennett in the death of Officer Kevon M. Gavin, who died when a vehicle crashed into Gavin's cruiser during a high-speed chase. Stennett's lawyer acknowledged during the trial that his client was driving the vehicle.

But the jurors who acquitted Stennett later expressed outrage at how city police handled the case. The evidence included testimony about police refusing to let Stennett's mother see him while he was recovering in a hospital bed.

Moore, 25, of Baltimore is the third defendant to be tried in Prothero's killing.

His half-brother Richard Antonio Moore, 30, who is charged as the shooter, could receive the death penalty if he is found guilty. He is scheduled to be tried in Harford County Circuit Court on April 17.

Donald Antonio White Jr. was convicted in August by a jury that deliberated for about an hour. Troy White, who is also known as Antonio Marcel Talley, was convicted a month later by a jury that deliberated about 90 minutes.

Both Whites, who are unrelated, admitted to police they participated in the robbery that left Prothero dead, which under state law made them guilty of first-degree felony murder.

Wesley Moore made no confession.

And in testimony, three witnesses have claimed police harassment.

Hawkins, who winked at Moore as he was taken into court, was subpoenaed to testify that Moore seemed unusually quiet the day after the killing, and that when city officers approached him and Moore on the street shortly after the shooting, Moore said they were "coming for him."

But Hawkins recanted on the stand, telling jurors that he thought the police were coming for him - not Moore - when they approached and asked for identification.

He also claimed that police used tear gas in the house he shares with his mother, setting her laundry on fire, when they arrived looking for clothing Moore might have worn the day of the robbery.

"Was your mother upset as a result of this raid of your house, looking for hats?" asked Moore's lawyer, Paul DeWolfe. Hawkins answered that she was upset.

Prosecutors said Hawkins' testimony was the first time they heard reports about tear gas being used.

Even with three witnesses recanting, the prosecution's case against Moore appears to be strong. The evidence against Moore includes testimony from a J. Brown's salesclerk who identified Moore as one of the gunmen in the store that day.

Prosecutors also presented evidence that Moore's DNA was on a necklace found outside the store and testimony that he fled with Richard Moore to Philadelphia, where they were arrested Feb. 19, 2000.

Prosecutors have submitted written statements to police by Hawkins as evidence for jurors, with written statements from two other witnesses who recanted.

Parcha McFadden, Moore's girlfriend, testified that police threatened to arrest her when they picked her up at her city home three days after the killing and drove her around the city's Murphy Homes housing complex looking for Moore.

McFadden, 24, acknowledged in testimony that she told county police detectives and a county grand jury in February last year that a necklace found outside the store the day of the killing was one that Moore often wore around his wrist. But she said she told the police what they wanted to hear.

"I didn't see any jewelry," McFadden testified. "I was scared to tell them the truth."

Assistant State's Attorney S. Ann Brobst pointed out to jurors that McFadden is still seeing Moore.

Ashley Mayer, 13, testified that police frightened her when they broke down the door of her house on West Franklin Street, handcuffed her brother, separated her from her parents and questioned her in the basement for at least 45 minutes.

"They pointed their guns at everybody," Ashley testified.

Prosecutors hoped Ashley would testify that Richard Moore went to her house a few days before the killing, picked up the two handguns used in the robbery and handed one of them to Wesley Moore, who was in a waiting car.

But Ashley, whose parents are friends with Richard Moore, testified that she was angry with police about the raid when they went to Harlem Park Middle School on Feb. 17, 2000, to interview her without her parents.

She claimed that police threatened to arrest her grandmother if she didn't tell them what they wanted to hear.

"I didn't see nothing," she told jurors.

Prosecution and defense lawyers have declined to comment on testimony in the trial.

The case, being heard by Judge James T. Smith Jr., is expected to go to the jury today.

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