Prosecutors handcuffed by varying stories

Officer's crime accounts jeopardize murder case

May 12, 2002|By Sarah Koenig | Sarah Koenig,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore police officer's conflicting statements about what he saw and heard the day of a killing in August have put prosecutors in a quandary as they prepare for trial tomorrow.

Gary Lewis, an officer in the city's Central District, has been stripped of his police powers and placed on administrative duty since giving two different versions of what he witnessed to homicide detectives.

A Police Department spokeswoman said Lewis, 25, is still the subject of an internal investigation.

The cloud over his career, and the apparent lie he told fellow officers, could prove detrimental to the state's case against Keko O. Worrell, 22, who is charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of 16-year-old Michael Lockett.

If Lewis takes the stand, he could be easily discredited. If he doesn't, the state loses what should have been a sterling witness -- an off-duty police officer who happened to be at the scene of a killing.

"Obviously, if he testifies, I can impeach him," said Marc L. Zayon, Worrell's lawyer. "There's an awful lot that I can accomplish through him."

Assuming that homicide detectives also will testify, Zayon said, "Not only is he going to tarnish his own reputation, but he tarnishes their reputations."

The state's attorney's office would not discuss the Worrell case. But law enforcement sources said prosecutors will try to avoid calling Lewis to testify.

Additional problems

Authorities have other witness problems.

Besides Lewis, police identified a handful of people who say they saw Worrell running after the victim. But one key witness, Taharka McCoy, 25, was killed in January -- two blocks from where Lockett was shot.

Investigators have not determined whether his killing is related to the Lockett case.

Since McCoy's death, another eyewitness has said he has no intention of showing up at trial. And at least three other witnesses have criminal records, including William Womack, who appears to have a relationship with Lewis.

Further complicating the prosecution's case is that police did not recover the murder weapon, and no physical evidence such as fingerprints or DNA links Worrell to the crime.

What police know is that Lockett was shot three times in the back the evening of Aug. 14 and was found lying in a parking lot in the 1200 block of Lindenleaf Court in East Baltimore.

People who gathered at the scene told investigators that Lewis, who grew up in the neighborhood and is well known there, was probably a witness. But Lewis, who was visiting his mother two blocks away on Autumnleaves Court, told police that evening that he "heard three to four gunshots, but did not investigate where they came from," according to court documents.

Lewis also did not call 911.

Then, 10 days later, he changed his story significantly. He told police he had ridden his motorcycle to his mother's house, and, after locking it, he saw three men, including Womack and Worrell, of the 1300 block of N. Caroline St., standing nearby.

"He had a brief conversation with William Womack after which he began walking toward his mother's residence," the statement says.

Next he saw Lockett ride past him on a bicycle. "After the juvenile was behind him, Officer Lewis heard someone shout something and he turned around. He observed Keko Worrell running around the corner of the wall after the juvenile. Approximately one to two seconds later, he heard four to five gunshots. He did not see anyone else go around the wall behind the victim," according to the statement.

Lewis then entered his mother's house. Sources say he told detectives that he called them anonymously a few days after the shooting and told them what he knew.

Police sources said Lewis has defended his initial withholding of information by explaining that he feared for the safety of his family. In addition, law enforcement sources said, Lewis was not carrying his police-issued gun at the time and did not want to investigate the crime without it.

State at disadvantage?

Prosecutors have enough evidence to proceed with the Worrell case -- which involves a tangle of drug relationships and retribution shootings -- but having to do so without Lewis is a disadvantage, said defense attorney A. Dwight Pettit, who has litigated some of the city's highest-profile cases.

Although jurors are supposed to give every witness' testimony the same weight, they tend to give police officers more credence, said Pettit. "It's a matter of human nature," he said.

If Lewis does take the stand, he added, the other detectives' stories can easily be called into question. "You can ask, how did [Lewis] get from statement A to statement Z, unless somebody told him how to get there?" he said. "I think you can undermine the state's case across the board."

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