Man's efforts as counsel slow trial

Testimony troubles, unprepared witnesses mark murder case

Judge conferences abound

Closing arguments planned today despite week's difficulties

April 19, 2001|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

Objections and conferences with the judge yesterday punctuated the murder trial of a Glen Burnie man who was representing himself, and muddling his way through courtroom procedure.

Gerald Carvell Wallace, 23, of the first block of Phyllis Drive, had lawyers appointed by the public defender's office to represent him in the Anne Arundel Circuit Court trial. But he fired them before it started and said he intended to handle his own defense.

Wallace is charged with first-degree murder in the October shooting of Jerome Isaiah Johnson, 18, of Columbia. The body of Johnson, a graduate of Hammond High School who worked as a mattress salesman, was found lying at the end of Huff Road in Pasadena's Freetown community.

Closing arguments are scheduled for today. The state is seeking a sentence of life in prison without parole.

Another defendant in the slaying, Keith Lamont Mallett, 20, of the 8100 block of Harold Court in Glen Burnie, is scheduled for trial in September.

The state maintains that the two men attempted to rob Johnson. Wallace drew a gun and held it to the victim's head while Mallett went through the victim's pockets, Assistant State's Attorney Kathleen Rogers said in opening statements Monday.

Wallace hit Johnson in the head with the gun, and the weapon discharged, fatally wounding Johnson in the shoulder area, she said.

Judge Robert H. Heller Jr. tried to help Wallace during the proceedings, but the defendant seemed unprepared.

Wallace attempted to make an opening statement, but Rogers objected to his first mumbled words. The judge explained that Wallace needed only address the facts and evidence that he intended to present, but the defendant replied that he had nothing more to say and sat down.

Wallace told the judge Tuesday that he was having trouble contacting defense witnesses. "It's kind of hard for me to call them from inside the prison," he said, noting that some would not accept his collect calls. As a result, he hadn't interviewed them and didn't know what they would say.

He called six people to the stand to testify yesterday. Most of them continued their answers to questions after the judge had sustained objections by Rogers, and some inappropriately tried to ask questions of the prosecutor.

Rogers and Wallace objected to many of each other's questions, resulting in numerous conferences with the judge.

The common thread that Wallace attempted to pull from his witnesses was that they had never known him to be involved in such a crime. One of them, Julia Thomas, a resident of the Freetown neighborhood, testified she heard a gunshot that night and saw a man running through her back yard.

Wallace called the state's eyewitness, Annapolis resident George Scott, to the stand. Scott expressed annoyance that Wallace continued to ask him the same questions, and he told Wallace that he made a mistake by having his face visible during the crime.

Rogers said the trial has been difficult.

"You want to make sure his rights are protected and the record is protected," she said. "But on the other hand, you don't want to let evidence that is inadmissible into the courtroom."

Sun staff writer Andrea F. Siegel contributed to this article.

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