2nd trial awaited in killing of girl

Brill found guilty on strength of his statements to police

Moore's case delayed

October 28, 2001|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

In six hours of police interviews last year, Scott Jory Brill not only explained his role in the brutal stabbing and strangulation death of 14-year-old Ashley Nicole Mason, he also portrayed his fellow defendant, Frederick James Moore, as the prime player in the attack.

But while Brill's words to investigators brought him down - Howard County Circuit Judge Dennis M. Sweeney called them the "crux" of the case Thursday before convicting Brill, 19, of first-degree murder - they cannot be used to implicate Moore in the killing.

Rules governing hearsay and a defendant's Sixth Amendment right to confront his accusers prohibit the use of Brill's taped statements to police at Moore's trial, legal experts said Friday.

And unlike Brill, who agreed to speak with police four times over two days and admitted to greater and greater involvement in the attack in each interview, Moore refused to talk when confronted by police, his lawyer, Sheldon Mazelis said.

A defendant's statements are often an important piece of a case, experts said.

"It's a confession to the crime, and that's pretty telling stuff," said Alan D. Hornstein, associate dean of the University of Maryland School of Law.

Whether that missing piece will affect Howard County prosecutors' case against Moore, 22, when he is tried on a charge of first-degree murder remains unclear.

Deputy State's Attorney I. Matthew Campbell would not comment on the state's case against Moore.

The trial, which had been scheduled to begin Nov. 7, has been postponed, and Mazelis said Friday that the case likely will be reset for early next year.

Although the forensic evidence in Moore's trial, including DNA, is likely to mirror evidence introduced during Brill's trial last week, the witness list may differ if prosecutors decide to call people who spoke with Moore in the hours and days after the killing.

Brill's statements

Brill's statements to police became building blocks for the prosecutor, providing a foundation for the rest of the state's case.

Although Brill initially denied involvement in the killing, he later told detectives that he watched through a side mirror while Moore stabbed the 14-year-old and dragged her into woods behind the Pizza Hut at Route 108 and Bendix Road.

Eventually, and after he was pressed by detectives, Brill said he choked her, but "not all the way," and stabbed her in the stomach, but "after she was dead," according to transcripts of the interviews.

Ashley's body was discovered in the woods the morning of Nov. 3 by a delivery truck driver who followed marks from a pool of blood. A medical examiner determined that she had been strangled and stabbed 34 times. The stab wounds severed her carotid arteries and fractured her skull.

Judge's verdict

In his 25-minute explanation of the verdict from the bench Thursday, Sweeney noted the forensic evidence, which, according to the medical examiner, showed that Ashley was alive when she was stabbed in the stomach.

But the judge said "the crux of the case turns on the statements of Mr. Brill." Sweeney tried the case after Brill waived his right to a jury trial.

Brill's defense attorney, Warren A. Brown, repeatedly argued during the trial that Brill's admissions were unreliable.

But Sweeney said Brill was aware that detectives might use "trickery" and still chose to talk. The interviews show that Brill wanted the police to believe what he said, Sweeney said.

He pointed to admissions by Brill that he choked Ashley and stabbed her once, and that he and Moore continued to associate with each other after the killing - despite Brill's claims that the killing shocked him.

Brown said the impact of Brill's decision to talk to police was "immense, immeasurable."

"You can't overstate the importance of the confession because when you're left with it, you've got a guy confessing to killing a girl," he said.

Witnesses, DNA evidence

Without a statement to investigators from Moore, Brown said, prosecutors will have to rely on Moore's statements to others, which raises the possibility of attacks on the credibility of the witnesses. Still, the evidence attaches Moore to the crime scene, Brown said.

The knife used in the attacks belonged to Moore, according to testimony in Brill's trial. Moore's DNA could not be excluded as the source of samples on the knife, and was confirmed on a nylon hair covering found a few feet from Ashley's body, according to testimony.

Moore was also with Brill when they returned to a friend's house in the early morning of Nov. 3, and Moore appeared to have blood on his pants and boots, one witness testified.

Mazelis, who said he plans to file motions arguing that the DNA evidence should be barred, said Friday that the witness could not say for certain that what he saw on Moore's clothing was blood. The pants and boots were never recovered, he said.

Mazelis maintains that Brill, not Moore, was "the violent one."

"Mr. Moore is very quiet, very passive, and the way it's been described to me, I think he was scared to death of Mr. Brill," he said.

Brill, who faces a maximum penalty of life in prison without the possibility of parole, is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 11.

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