Bail is doubled for suspect in drug, gun case

Stennett, acquitted of killing officer, faces new charges

Federal trial sought

March 12, 2002|By Jim Haner and John B. O'Donnell | Jim Haner and John B. O'Donnell,SUN STAFF

Thin as a reed, 19-year-old Eric Stennett slouched in his seat yesterday and rocked gently from side to side - grooving to his own internal rhythm, the picture of streetwise aplomb, even as a prosecutor ticked off a list of drug and weapons charges that could put him in prison for more than a century.

"He's not just some junkie," Assistant State's Attorney Kevin Urick told a judge at a bail hearing yesterday. "He's a player. ... He's wreaking havoc on the streets of Baltimore."

Stennett continued to rock, arms folded across his chest.

Urick then asked District Judge Barbara Waxman to hold Stennett on $250,000 bail, an extraordinary amount for a drug case, and broke into a wide smile when she doubled the sum to $500,000 and cracked Stennett's cool facade.

"Whew!" the prisoner gasped, his spine stiffening.

It wasn't the only bad news he got yesterday - as prosecutors also announced that they will seek to have him charged in federal court, where he could face much stiffer penalties and no possibility of parole.

Stennett was convicted of drug dealing three times as a juvenile and was acquitted by a jury last year of murder in the death of a police officer when it was revealed during his trial that investigators had mishandled almost all of the evidence against him.

Thus no one was convicted in the the death of Officer Kevon M. Gavin - a 27-year-old, married father of three young children.

"This is, of course, the worst case scenario for him," said attorney A. Dwight Pettit, who represented Stennett in the murder trial. "The circumstances couldn't be much worse. Rearrested within a year, new allegations of violence - or, at least, threats of violence. ... It's safe to say the prosecution will go after him with everything they've got."

Stennett was arrested late Saturday night, shortly after a police dispatcher put out a bulletin that an anonymous caller had reported an armed man and several cohorts were selling drugs in the 1000 block of Druid Hill Ave.

Two officers in a nearby patrol car responded, according to a police report, cruising up on the corner of Hoffman Street. Just then, they spotted a man who began running down an alley toward the darkened heart of the McCulloh Homes public housing project.

Officer Milton Smith bailed out of his patrol car and fell in behind the man, who led him on a footrace past the boarded-up doors and shattered windows of an abandoned apartment block and out across a hard-packed dirt courtyard littered with syringe caps and empty drug vials.

As he ran, police said, the man cast off bags of suspected crack cocaine and heroin. At one point, Smith reported, the slightly built man whipped out a silver .32-caliber pistol from his waistband and turned on the young officer, before thinking better of it when he saw Smith reach for his weapon.

The man tossed his gun away and kept on running.

Smith cornered the suspect on a trash-strewn stretch of Preston Street.

According to police reports, when Smith and another officer asked their prisoner his name he answered, "Eric Stennett," prompting one of the officers to remark that it sounded familiar.

"Yeah, I'm the one," the suspect allegedly answered.

Police then undertook extraordinary efforts to preserve the evidence, according to Col. Robert Stanton, chief of detectives.

Smith backtracked, found the discarded gun in front of a house in the 500 block of Preston St. and hunched over it to shield it with his body as rain began to fall, preserving any fingerprints until his partner could don rubber gloves and slip the weapon into another rubber glove.

Police also found drugs discarded along the way.

"None of the items were wet, or damp in any way," Smith later wrote in his report. "They were ... warm as if kept warm from body heat."

Colonel Stanton, whose detectives are investigating the case, said that both the gun and the suspected containers of narcotics will be checked for fingerprints.

Margaret T. Burns, spokeswoman for Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, said yesterday that the city has asked the U.S. attorney's office to prosecute the West Baltimore teen, who was living with his grandmother in the 800 block of Harlem Ave.

Neither U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio nor his aides responded to telephone messages seeking comment, but federal prosecutors often have greater success with such cases because their juries are chosen from among residents in 19 Maryland counties, not just Baltimore City.

They tend to be mostly white and much more conservative.

Jessamy's office prosecuted Stennett last year in a celebrated trial before a mostly black jury made up entirely of city residents, which acquitted the teen-ager of all charges in the death of Officer Gavin in April 2000.

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