Jury seeks both sides

Grand jury testimony by Geckles, victims of shooting requested

`Unusual' procedure

Plant owners claim self-defense in man's killing

April 20, 2001|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

Two men shot during a break-in at a Glyndon business, and the two brothers implicated in the shooting, have been asked to testify next week before a Baltimore County grand jury at what lawyers say will be a highly unusual legal proceeding.

The grand jury will decide whether criminal charges should be filed against Dominic "Tony" Geckle and Matthew Geckle, owners of Back River Supply Inc., who were armed with shotguns and guarding the concrete plant the night of the shooting. They say they acted in self-defense.

Prosecutors in the Baltimore County state's attorney's office refuse to confirm the grand jury proceedings, but lawyers representing the burglary suspects and one of the brothers said all four men have been asked to testify Wednesday. The invitations are not subpoenas, which require someone to attend a court proceeding.

Lawyers and legal experts are puzzled by the invitations. Rarely, they say, do prosecutors call witnesses - especially victims - before a grand jury. Instead, they typically rely on written statements and police interviews.

"To bring in the victims for a grand jury proceeding is extremely unusual," said Andrew C. White, a former federal prosecutor. "It is an affirmative recognition by [prosecutors] that this is a special case and a case that deserves special treatment."

Leonard H. Shapiro, who represents Justin Storto, one of the men who was shot, said that "it is not rare" for a victim to testify: "It is unheard of. ... It looks and sounds and feels strange."

The case dates to the night of March 19, when, police say, Tony Geckle shot three unarmed intruders. The plant, in the 12200 block of Owings Mills Blvd., had been burglarized the previous two nights.

Jonathan Steinbach, 24, was shot and killed. Storto, 21, and Enrico L. Magliarella, 24, were wounded. The two men were later arrested on burglary charges.

Attorneys for Storto and Magliarella said their clients probably will tell the grand jury that they were shot in the back while trying to flee the warehouse.

Richard G. Berger, an attorney who represents Matthew Geckle, said he doubts whether his client or his brother will testify.

"What do the [burglary suspects] have to lose by testifying?" Berger asked, noting that an indictment would bolster any civil suits filed by the burglary suspects. "But for a criminal lawyer to allow a potential target to testify is improper and not acting in the best interest of the client."

That could lead to the grand jury's hearing live testimony from only one side. And that, Berger and other legal experts say, could be troublesome for his client.

A simple majority of the grand jury - composed of 23 Baltimore County residents - is needed to indict either brother.

Shapiro and Thomas C. Morrow, attorney for Magliarella, said prosecutors have not offered their clients formal or informal immunity for their testimony.

Jose Anderson, a professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law, said prosecutors might be using the invitations as political cover.

"The fact [that] they are inviting a broad range of witnesses probably means they are aware the public will be watching very closely," said Anderson.

Lawyers agree that the outcome of the proceeding might hinge on how prosecutors present their case. Prosecutors decide what evidence they will present to the grand jury.

Magliarella will tell the jurors that he heard at least two gunshots immediately after he heard someone shout "freeze," Morrow said. He will also say that he and Steinbach were struck in the head with the butt of a rifle after they were shot, the lawyer said.

The attorneys for the burglary suspects have said they think the Geckle brothers should be indicted on charges of first-degree murder or conspiracy to commit murder.

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