Appeals court overturns man's conviction in 1999 killing

September 22, 2001|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Maryland's Court of Special Appeals reversed the second-degree murder conviction of a Randallstown man yesterday, saying that a Baltimore County judge failed to properly question jurors about possible bias toward African-Americans.

The three-member judicial panel concluded that the questions asked by Judge John F. Fader II failed to go far enough to meet defendant Raymond Molden Jr.'s request to root out possible prejudice among jury members.

"The failure to permit the broader inquiry requested by the defendant was in error, warranting reversal of the conviction," the court concluded.

Baltimore County prosecutors said yesterday that they intend to retry the case.

"As long as they didn't reverse the conviction for insufficient evidence," said Assistant State's Attorney Mickey Norman, who prosecuted the case. "The guy's guilty so we have to try him again."

Molden, 33, was convicted of second-degree murder last year in the 1999 execution-style killing of Donnell Williams, 28, whose body was found Aug. 17, 1999, in the Perring Plaza shopping center on East Joppa Road. Willliams had been shot in the head four times.

A Baltimore County Circuit Court jury convicted Molden, a rap musician, who received a 25-year sentence. He was also convicted of a handgun violation.

During the trial, Molden's public defender, Rodney Warren, requested that jurors be asked a specific question: "Does any juror hold any bias or prejudice toward African-Americans in general, African-American males or Mr. Molden specifically that would prevent your rendering a fair and impartial verdict in this case?"

The question Fader asked was: "Mr. Molden is an African-American male. I ask this question now, are there any of you who for any reason would give more or less weight to his presentation, defense or state just because of his status as an African-American male?"

The appeals panel found a significant difference in the questions.

Warren, who now works in private practice, rejoiced yesterday at the reversal.

"I'm excited," he said. "[The questioning] was an issue, it obviously was a concern."

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