Verdict stands in Prothero case

Appeals court upholds felony murder conviction in death of police officer

September 21, 2001|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

A state appeals court has affirmed the felony murder conviction of Troy White, one of four men sentenced to life without the possibility of parole in the slaying of Baltimore County police Sgt. Bruce A. Prothero during a robbery in Pikesville last year.

The Court of Special Appeals rejected White's arguments that Circuit Judge John G. Turnbull II should have barred White's confession and any evidence obtained from police wiretaps.

White had argued that he asked for an attorney before he confessed, but that detectives tricked him into talking by telling him he was being charged with murder.

The appeals court ruled there was nothing improper in the way county police Detective Philip Marll elicited White's confession.

"Informing a suspect of the charges or evidence against him is simply not - of itself - the equivalent of interrogation," Chief Judge Joseph F. Murphy Jr. wrote.

Prothero, the father of five, was shot to death Feb. 7, 2000, as he chased four men out of the J. Brown Jewelers store in Pikesville. Prothero, 35, was off duty and working at the store as a security guard.

White, 26, was arrested after police overheard him offering to sell Cartier and Rolex watches stolen in the robbery to a suspected drug dealer whose phones were being tapped.

One call - made hours after the killing - turned out to be crucial in identifying the suspects.

Police traced it to a home in the 1000 block of N. Ellamont St. in Baltimore, where they apprehended White and found jewelry taken in the robbery under sofa cushions.

White, of Baltimore, also gave police the identities of the three other suspects.

Donald Antonio White, Jr., 20, who is no relation, and Wesley Moore, 26, both of Baltimore, were sentenced after separate jury trials. Moore's brother, Richard Moore, 31, also of Baltimore, was charged as the shooter and avoided a possible death sentence by pleading guilty April 30 to felony murder.

Brian Murphy, White's attorney, said yesterday that the 25-page decision will be reviewed and may be appealed to the Court of Appeals, Maryland's highest court. White has 45 days to request a review.

"The question becomes, are the legal issues raised in the opinion important enough for the court [of appeals] to pursue it," Murphy said.

Murphy had argued that use of the wiretap violated White's constitutional rights because the tap was approved only for use as part of an unrelated investigation into Baltimore drug rings.

The wiretapped conversations - and all the evidence obtained from them - should have been barred, Murphy said.

But the appeals court rejected that argument, noting that detectives followed Judge Kathleen G. Cox's orders by keeping her informed about the calls.

"Neither the Fourth Amendment nor any applicable statute requires law enforcement officers to avoid intercepting all nonrelevant conversations," Murphy said, writing for a unanimous three-judge panel.

The court also rejected White's claim that the jury instructions were unfair, finding that Turnbull instructed jurors using language more favorable to White than required by law.

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