A father's rage erupts in tearful courtroom

Testimony details policeman's killing

March 23, 2002|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Michael J. Cowdery Sr. -- father of a slain Baltimore police officer -- could no longer contain himself in the courtroom yesterday as he heard excruciating details of his son's murder.

"You dog!" he exploded at defendant Howard "Wee" Whitworth, who is on trial, charged with ambushing and killing Michael J. Cowdery Jr. last March on a drug-infested street in East Baltimore.

"You dog!" repeated Cowdery, lunging in Whitworth's direction as his daughter, India Cowdery, threw both arms around her father and covered his mouth with her hands.

Judge Marcella A. Holland had just called a recess because of the gruesome details in the testimony of Officer Tiffany Walker, who described Cowdery's killing March 12 last year.

Walker, who was working with Cowdery and two other officers the night of the killing, cried as she testified that after Cowdery was shot in the leg, the assailant walked over to him and put a bullet in his head as he lay disabled on the sidewalk.

After the first shot, Walker Said, she ducked into a carryout restaurant on Harford Road. She heard Cowdery scream out. When she peered out, she said, she saw a hand holding a gun that fired the second shot into Cowdery's head.

Walker said she then pulled out her gun and tried to fire, but it was jammed and would not work. She said she did not get a good look at the shooter and could not identify him.

During Walker's testimony, almost everyone in the packed courtroom was wiping their eyes, including police officers, jurors, news reporters and Whitworth's family.

A deputy sheriff walked through the courtroom offering tissues.

After seven days of trial, the prosecution has not been able to establish a motive for the killing of Cowdery, 31, who had served on the force for 4 1/2 years. His father is a Philadelphia police detective.

Prosecutors have portrayed Whitworth, 27, as a "drug dealer and a cold-blooded cop killer," while the defense contends he is a victim of mistaken identity.

The rainy night of the killing, Cowdery was with several of his colleagues questioning three people outside the carryout restaurant on Harford Road. The officers were not in uniform but were wearing police badges around their necks.

That was when Whitworth came out of nowhere and shot Cowdery, said prosecutor Donald Giblin.

Officer Ronald A. Beverly, who was at the scene, returned fire and was shot in the ankle and leg. He was still able to chase and shoot Whitworth, almost killing him.

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

Walker described what she could remember of the murder, but she said she's been "trying since that night to forget."

Giblin is almost finished presenting his case, which includes testimony from a ballistics expert showing that the gun found next to Whitworth was used to kill Cowdery, though no fingerprints were found on the weapon.

This week, Giblin brought into court witness Rachel Rogers -- an acknowledged junkie, drug dealer and prostitute -- who testified that she knows Whitworth and saw him shoot Cowdery.

Cowdery was interviewing her outside the carryout when he was shot, Rogers said, and he fell onto her legs.

Giblin also brought in corrections officer Tierre Brownlee, who testified Whitworth told him he shot Cowdery because he thought Cowdery was a "stickup boy" trying to rob drug dealers on the street.

Still to come is testimony from Beverly, who is expected to describe his foot chase and shootout with Whitworth.

After that, assistant public defenders John Markus and Harun Shabazz will present their case. That case, outlined in opening statements, is that Whitworth is not the killer and police have not investigated enough to prove it.

There was a lot of commotion on Harford Road the night of the murder, Shabazz said in his statement, and in the confusion, his client was hit by police gunfire. That gave police incentive to pin the killing on Whitworth, Shabazz said.

But the manner in which they have questioned the state's witnesses would suggest another defense: If Whitworth killed Cowdery, he didn't know Cowdery was a police officer.

It was Shabazz who got the corrections officer to tell the jury that Whitworth said he thought Cowdery was sticking up drug dealers when he shot him.

Shabazz has explained to the jury that Harford Road is an "open-air drug market" and that stickups are common.

The defense lawyers have repeatedly questioned witnesses as to what the officers were wearing that night, and whether the witnesses could tell they were police. The defense also has been trying to show inconsistencies in witness statements, as well as sloppy management of the crime scene.

They also pointed out to the jury that no fingerprints were found on the weapon found next to Whitworth, and police failed to test Whitworth's hand for gunshot residue, as is customary.

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