Prosecutors link gun to killing of police officer

No fingerprints found on weapon, expert says

March 21, 2002|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Witnesses testified yesterday in the trial of the man charged in the killing of Baltimore police Officer Michael J. Cowdery that the gun found next to the suspect was used to kill Cowdery, but no fingerprints were found on the weapon.

Assistant State's Attorney Donald Giblin has told the jury for a week and a half that Howard T. Whitworth is a "cold-blooded cop killer" who shot Cowdery in the leg, then grabbed him by his hooded sweat shirt and shot him in the head as he lay on the sidewalk.

Assistant Public Defender John P. Markus has argued that Whitworth is a victim of mistaken identity and that police do not have enough evidence to prove he killed Cowdery.

A gun expert explained the lack of prints on the gun yesterday by saying there was a heavy rainstorm the night of the killing, and water would have prevented prints from forming.

City crime laboratory technician Ted Turner testified that it is uncommon to find fingerprints on a gun, even when it is not raining. Of 18,110 ballistic tests for fingerprints the lab conducted last year, he testified, 214 - or 1.2 percent - yielded fingerprints.

But Markus suggested police were lax in managing the crime scene, and should have immediately picked the gun off the pavement and tested for prints, rather than leaving it in the rain for 45 minutes, allowing any prints to wash away.

The killing happened last March, when Cowdery was with several of his colleagues questioning people outside a carryout restaurant in East Baltimore.

That was when Whitworth came out of nowhere and shot Cowdery, Giblin said. Officer Ronald A. Beverly, who was at the scene, returned fire and was shot in the ankle and leg. He then chased Whitworth around a corner and shot him, police said. Witnesses said they saw Beverly standing over Whitworth.

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

Gun identification expert James Wagster testified yesterday that the bullet found in Cowdery's head was fired from a 9 mm Smith and Wesson that Giblin said was found three feet from Whitworth when he fell on the pavement.

Prosecutors established no apparent motive for the shooting, though testimony 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 told him he shot Cowdery because he thought Cowdery and the other officers were "stick-up boys" trying to rob drug dealers.

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