Second man killed officer, lawyer says

Cowdery's partner put gun near Whitworth, attorney maintains

`They are blowing smoke'

Surprise accusation comes during closing arguments of trial

March 29, 2002|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

An attorney for the man charged with killing Baltimore police Officer Michael J. Cowdery shocked the courtroom during closing arguments in his trial yesterday, accusing Cowdery's partner of planting the gun to frame an innocent person.

Assistant Public Defender John P. Markus told the jury he could not prove his theory - which he had not even hinted at during the two-week trial.

Prosecutor Donald Giblin roared back at Markus during his closing arguments, saying the accusation shocked him and was a "last desperate attempt."

"At the 11th hour you tarnish the reputation of this Baltimore City police officer?" Giblin said. "That's character assassination, and shame on you, sir."

The jury deliberated for an hour and a half and will reconvene today to decide whether they believe Howard "Wee" Whitworth is the man who shot Cowdery in the leg and walked over and shot him in his head at close range as he lay on a sidewalk in East Baltimore last March.

Markus told the court his client is a drug dealer who walked into a shootout.

He then suggested that Officer Robert Jackson, who was with Cowdery the night he was killed, stumbled on the murder weapon and placed it next to Whitworth as Whitworth lay on the ground after being shot five times by police.

The real killer, Markus said, ran away and threw the gun on the ground. That man, he said, got into a shootout with police, not his client.

Jackson shook his head in the courtroom when he heard the accusation against him and said later he was "shocked and hurt."

"My friend's gone, and now they accuse me of planting evidence," Jackson said. "I didn't see that coming. It was the last thing I expected."

Giblin told the jury that the defense has attempted to cloud the truth.

"They are blowing smoke, and they want you to get lost in the smoke," Giblin said. "If you take away the smoke, you will see the same thing Michael Cowdery saw the last seconds of his life: Howard Whitworth."

According to prosecutors, the incident started just after 10 p.m. March 12, 2001, when Cowdery and several colleagues - Robert Jackson, Ronald A. Beverly and Tiffany Walker - were questioning three people outside a Chinese food carryout on Harford Road. The plainclothes officers wore police badges around their necks.

A man appeared suddenly and shot Cowdery in the leg from 10 to 15 feet away, then walked over and shot him above his left ear. After the first shot rang out, everyone scattered for cover except Cowdery and the shooter.

When Beverly looked back in the direction of the shot, he said, he saw a man wearing dark clothing lean over Cowdery, then run away.

Beverly gave chase, and the two shot at each other. Beverly was hit in both legs.

The man, later identified as Whitworth, suffered five gunshot wounds that nearly killed him, according to medical testimony in the trial.

Beverly said he lost sight of the man for less than two seconds as the man turned the corner from Harford Road to Cliftview Avenue. Beverly said he is positive the man he saw on Cliftview was the same man he chased from Harford Road.

No one else was running on the street, he said.

Whitworth, who testified Wednesday, said he was never on Harford Road. He said he was walking on Cliftview Avenue toward a liquor store to buy beer and possibly sell drugs when he happened into a gunfight, seconds after Cowdery was shot.

Whitworth testified that he was about to turn the corner from Cliftview Avenue, south onto Harford Road when he felt a bullet sting his right arm. That was when he saw a man dash by him up Cliftview Avenue. He spun around and also ran up Cliftview, he said, and then an officer came around the corner and chased him, shooting at him until he collapsed.

Giblin said in his closing arguments that Whitworth was on Harford Road, where he killed Cowdery, then got into a gunfight with Beverly.

The gunfight started on Harford Road and led to Cliftview, he said, where Whitworth collapsed and dropped his gun.

Giblin said gun casings from Beverly's 9 mm Glock that fell on Harford Road prove Whitworth was there, because they correspond with bullet wounds all over Whitworth's body.

Cowdery was a 4 1/2 -year veteran of the force. The courtroom was packed with men in blue to support him. His father, a 28-year veteran of the Philadelphia police department, has attended the trial.

Michael J. Cowdery Sr. said he is praying for a guilty verdict today. "There were so many holes in Whitworth's testimony, it was like Swiss cheese," Cowdery said. "There isn't any phantom gunman who shot my son."

Antonio Whitworth, the defendant's brother, said he's confident his brother is innocent. "I'm not nervous at all," he said. "I think that the verdict will be not guilty."

Sun staff writers Jamil Roberts and Kimberly A.C. Wilson contributed to this article.

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