Giant case charge made

Woman who had immunity earlier is conspiracy suspect

Store was robbed in 1999

Man acquitted in May is under federal indictment

Columbia

April 10, 2001|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

A 30-year-old Baltimore woman once granted immunity for her testimony against two men accused of using an AK-47 assault rifle to rob the Wilde Lake Giant store two years ago has been charged with conspiracy.

Angela Watkins, who testified under a grant of immunity at the trial in May of Armistead D. Myers, one of the men accused of the crime, is scheduled to appear in Howard County Circuit Court tomorrow afternoon for a plea hearing on a charge that she conspired with Myers and Duane E. Curtis to rob the Columbia store.

Such hearings usually are set when a defendant plans to enter a plea of guilty or no contest.

A similar plea hearing for Curtis, 25, who was recharged in January in a seven-count indictment, is scheduled today.

The expected quick resolution to the cases against Watkins - who was first charged less than three weeks ago - and Curtis, and last week's indictment of Myers on federal charges in the Giant robbery, other robberies and robbery attempts appears to have salvaged a case that fell apart last year when Howard County prosecutors put Myers on trial.

Federal authorities stepped in after Howard County Judge Lenore R. Gelfman acquitted Myers of all charges May 16, saying prosecutors had not presented enough evidence that could confirm what Watkins had testified to, under a grant of immunity. Prosecutors were required by law to independently corroborate Watkins' testimony because she was suspected of being an accomplice.

The Giant employees who were victims of the robbery could not positively identify Myers. A witness who originally said that Myers was with the man to whom he sold the AK-47 later said in court that he could not identify Myers.

Ten days later, prosecutors dropped all charges against Curtis, pointing to their failure to convict Myers.

Myers could not be retried on the state level because of the constitutional protection against being tried twice for the same crime, so the U.S. attorney's office began looking at the case and investigating, said Marcy Murphy, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Baltimore.

Howard County prosecutors and federal authorities have been "cooperating with each other since the unfortunate dismissal," said Deputy State's Attorney I. Matthew Campbell.

The federal investigation led to last week's indictment of Myers on charges of conspiracy to obstruct commerce by robbery and brandishing a firearm in a violent crime.

The indictment lists robberies, robbery attempts and aborted plans to rob Howard County businesses between Dec. 12, 1997, and Feb. 28, 1999. Curtis, Watkins and others are listed as co-conspirators in the indictment but have not been federally indicted.

It was unclear yesterday what role, if any, Watkins, Curtis and Michael E. Brown, also listed as a suspected co-conspirator in the indictment against Myers, will play in the federal case. State and federal prosecutors, and attorneys for all three, said they could not comment.

Court records show involvement by federal prosecutors in the state cases.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Harvey E. Eisenberg was in Howard County Circuit Court when Brown pleaded guilty last month to conspiracy to commit armed robbery in the robbery of a Jiffy Lube on Dobbin Center Way on Feb. 19, 1999. That robbery was listed in the federal indictment. Eisenberg was also in court yesterday when Watkins' plea hearing was reset for tomorrow.

The court file for Curtis includes a letter from Kathryn Frey-Balter, his lawyer, who is an assistant federal public defender. The letter says discussions in a U.S. District Court case led to Curtis' decision to plead guilty in the state case.

Why Watkins, once granted immunity, is being charged in the robbery of Giant also was unclear yesterday. Prosecutors would not comment on the reason, although immunity agreements traditionally come with a condition that witnesses testify truthfully.

Watkins, a former employee of the Wilde Lake Giant, is accused of casing the supermarket the day of the robbery, Jan. 12, 1999, and reporting to the robbers, according to court documents in Myers' Howard County case. She was arrested in Anne Arundel County a few weeks later.

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