Stennett ordered by judge to remain in jail until trial

Teen's acquittal in death of officer last year not a factor, U.S. court says

April 16, 2002|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

A federal judge yesterday ordered Eric D. Stennett jailed until his trial on drug and weapons charges, saying that the teen-ager who was acquitted last year in the death of a city police officer could pose a significant risk to the community if he were released from jail.

U.S. Magistrate Judge James K. Bredar said that Stennett's high-profile acquittal in the death of Officer Kevon M. Gavin was not a factor in his decision to deny bail. But that earlier case loomed large yesterday as Stennett's attorneys began outlining a defense that will scrutinize the actions of city officers in bringing the new case.

Stennett, 19, was arrested last month after a foot chase with police in West Baltimore where, officers said, they saw him drop two plastic bags containing crack cocaine and a .38-caliber revolver. Police added another drug charge after they said they found cocaine, a drug scale and other paraphernalia in the house where Stennett lived with his mother.

He pleaded not guilty yesterday to each of the three charges against him.

At yesterday's hearing, U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio said the items found at Stennett's home showed that the teen was more than a street-level pusher. But DiBiagio said authorities were on notice of the danger Stennett posed, noting that when he was arrested in the earlier homicide case, Stennett had led police on a high-speed chase and was found carrying a loaded firearm and wearing a bulletproof vest.

"The government's view is that the defendant's lack of criminal record directly understates his true propensity for dangerousness and drug trafficking," said DiBiagio, who is prosecuting the case.

Deputy Public Defender Joseph A. Balter argued that emotions surrounding Stennett's acquittal should not cloud his current case. Yesterday, Balter called as witnesses city officers Milton Smith and Kenneth Ramberg, who arrested Stennett last month, and had them recount the events leading up to the arrest.

The questioning revealed little new information. But it highlighted the close attention that defense attorneys are expected to pay to police procedure and motives in the case. Among other questions, Balter asked the officers whether Stennett's jacket was zipped as they chased him, and what steps they took to identify and preserve the items they said Stennett tossed as he ran.

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