Trial begins in killing of officer

Cowdery was shot last year while on undercover job

East Baltimore ambush

March 12, 2002|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

The man charged with killing Baltimore police Officer Michael J. Cowdery Jr. in an ambush went on trial yesterday, with prosecutors portraying him as a "cold-blooded cop killer" and his lawyer contending that he was a victim of mistaken identity.

Howard T. Whitworth is accused of gunning down Cowdery - who had been on the force for 4 1/2 years and was the son of a career Philadelphia police detective - while the officer and several of his colleagues were questioning two men outside a carryout restaurant in East Baltimore exactly one year ago.

In his opening statement, Assistant State's Attorney Donald Giblin told the 12-member jury that on the night of the incident, Whitworth, 32, came out of nowhere and shot Cowdery, 31, in the leg.

Everyone on the block scattered, Giblin said, but Whitworth walked over to Cowdery and shot him in the head as he lay disabled on the sidewalk. Police say Whitworth also shot Officer Ronald A. Beverly, who was wounded in the ankle and leg. Whitworth was wounded when police returned fire.

The officers were not in uniform but were wearing their police badges around their necks.

Cowdery "knew it was coming, and there wasn't anything he could do," Giblin said. "The evidence will show you Howard Whitworth is a drug dealer and a cold-blooded cop killer."

More than 40 packets of rock cocaine were found on Whitworth the night of the shooting.

Assistant Public Defender Harun Shabazz told the jury that police identified Whitworth as the shooter but have not investigated thoroughly enough to prove it.

Shabazz described the neighborhood where Cowdery was shot as an "open-air drug market" where businesses have bulletproof windows. He said the incident caused a "scene of panic, terror and confusion."

In the confusion, Shabazz said, his client was hit by police gunfire. That gave police incentive to pin the killing on Whitworth, Shabazz said.

"One idea crystallized: Whitworth better be the shooter of Officer Cowdery," Shabazz said. "With police bullets in him, he better be the shooter, as far as the police and the state are concerned."

Whitworth is charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, reckless endangerment, using a handgun in the commission of a felony and possession of a handgun.

Prosecutors established no apparent motive for the shooting, though testimony in a pretrial motion yesterday offered a possibility.

Tierre Brownlee, a corrections officer who was watching Whitworth in the hospital in the days after the shooting, testified that Whitworth complained that the television news was using an old photo of him, then confessed to the killing.

He said Whitworth told him he shot Cowdery because he thought Cowdery and the other officers were "stick-up boys" trying to rob drug dealers.

Cowdery's father, Michael J. Cowdery Sr., who watched the court proceedings, said after opening statements that he remembers his son, who was known as "Mickey," as a little boy.

He said his son had a degree in economics from Hampton University in Virginia and joined the police in July 1996. He left jobs as a financial consultant and manager of a Philadelphia shoe store.

"He was restless. He wanted to do something else with his life other than crunch numbers," Cowdery said. "I never wanted him to join the Police Department. I wanted him to be a math teacher. It's amazing the impression a parent can make on a child. I never knew the impression I made on him."

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