Court voids conviction in killing

Son's statement invalid as evidence in Ragins trial

March 29, 2002|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

A 46-year-old Woodlawn man convicted of murder won a new trial yesterday when a state appeals court ruled that jurors never should have seen an incriminating statement that his son gave to police.

John Edward Ragins, convicted of second-degree murder in the August 2000, fatal stabbing of his estranged wife's boyfriend, will be tried a second time, according to Baltimore County prosecutors.

Ragins, of the 5300 block of Liberty Heights Ave., was sentenced to the 30-year maximum in June after he was convicted of stabbing Thomas Brown, 36, of Randallstown.

Ragins was arrested about a block from the home he once shared with his estranged wife, in the 5400 block of Gradin Ave., and admitted that he stabbed Brown at the house, according to testimony.

Ragins admitted that when his 22-year-old son told him that Brown was at the home, he went there, confronted Brown and stabbed him during a fight, according to testimony. Ragins told police that Brown pulled a knife out of a pants pocket and that he stabbed him in self-defense, according to testimony.

Baltimore County Circuit Judge Robert E. Cadigan noted when he sentenced Ragins that Brown's pants did not have pockets and that police never found a second knife.

But the Court of Special Appeals ruled yesterday that jurors only convicted Ragins after seeing a statement provided to police by his son, Jonathan Ragins, shortly after the killing.

Jonathan Ragins' statement may have been read to the jury, but should not have been admitted as evidence because he refused to verify its accuracy when he testified at his father's trial, according to the decision.

"We are not persuaded that admitting the statement as substantive evidence, rather than merely reading it to the jury, had no impact on the jury's verdict," Judge James R. Eyler wrote in an eight-page decision.

The son, who was at the house that night, told police shortly after the stabbing that his father had a knife and that Brown was unarmed.

But at the trial five months later, Jonathan Ragins recanted. He told jurors that on the night of the killing, he had smoked marijuana and drank "approximately half a gallon of some type of alcohol" and couldn't remember anything that happened.

He testified that he did not remember speaking with police that night and could not verify that it was his signature on the written statement given to police.

Assistant State's Attorney Al Webster said yesterday that the written statement was admitted as evidence because Jonathan Ragins was a reluctant witness against his father.

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