Two businessmen charged with killing an intruder who broke into their East Baltimore warehouse in June pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder yesterday, after being met outside the circuit court by a group of sign-waving supporters who wore T-shirts reading "Is there justice in Baltimore City?"
Kenny Der and Darrell R. Kifer were indicted by a Baltimore grand jury in November for the killing of Tygon Walker, 37, who the defendants say broke into the North Wolfe Street warehouse brandishing a weapon, possibly a hammer.
"We intend to put forth a very vigorous defense," Der's lawyer, Joseph Murtha, said yesterday at an impromptu news conference outside the courthouse. "There is no doubt self-defense will be an issue in the case."
About 25 people stood outside the courthouse at 8:30 a.m., about an hour before Der and Kifer were arraigned on the murder charges, holding red, white and blue signs reading "Self defense is not a crime!"
"We feel sad this has happened," said Der's mother, Cheryl Der, who was holding a "donations" jar with three $20 bills inside. "It was self-defense."
She was passing around a petition she intends to send to State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy that reads, "You've made a mistake by supporting the indictment of these two men."
According to statements made at a November bail hearing, Kifer and Der, both 35 and of Harford County, were on the first floor of the two-story warehouse where they run a refinishing business when they heard noises upstairs.
Armed with a handgun and shotgun, they went to investigate and discovered Walker, whom they shot in "all parts of his body, including his back," said Assistant State's Attorney Mark Cohen at the hearing.
Another of Der's lawyers, David B. Irwin, said Walker threatened to kill the men when they confronted him, and that they fired from about 30 feet away.
Cohen said blood tests showed Walker had been drinking that night and "had drugs in his system at the time he was shot." Court records describe him as 6 feet tall and weighing 150 pounds.
Walker, who lived in the 1100 block of E. Belvedere Ave., was convicted of felony theft in Baltimore in 1994, records show. He also had been arrested eight times in Baltimore between 1993 and 1996.
Judge Clifton James Gordy Jr. set an April 23 trial date yesterday. The two defendants could face a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Der and Kifer have been trying to draw national attention to their case since last month, when they started a Web site promoting a legal defense fund.
Ken Brady, a Towson businessman listed as the fund manager on the Web site, said he has raised a few thousand dollars and hopes to raise tens of thousands more.
Under Maryland law, a person may use deadly force if that person has a reasonable belief that his or her life is in imminent danger and if he or she uses no more force than reasonably necessary.
In the case of Dominic "Tony" Geckle and Matthew Geckle, brothers who killed an unarmed man and injured two others who had broken into the Geckles' concrete plant in Glyndon in March, a Baltimore County grand jury found that the brothers were protected from prosecution under the self-defense law.