Judge OKs delay in trial

City prosecutors note trouble with witnesses in seeking postponement

One set to testify was killed

Man, 22, is charged with first-degree murder in 16-year-old's death

May 14, 2002|By Sarah Koenig | Sarah Koenig,SUN STAFF

A Circuit Court judge granted Baltimore prosecutors two more months yesterday to try to shore up a first-degree murder case complicated by witness problems - including a police officer who gave colleagues two differing statements about what he saw.

The trial of Keko O. Worrell, 22, was scheduled to begin yesterday. Instead, prosecutor Gerald Volatile asked the judge for a postponement. He explained his reasons for the request in discouraging detail:

He started with six witnesses, he told the court. Two, including Officer Gary Lewis, are ready to appear at trial. Of the other four, one was killed. The best remaining eyewitness to the shooting failed to show up yesterday. Another has said he is too scared to testify. And a warrant is out for the arrest of the final witness, who is implicated in a separate shooting.

For those who know the frustrations of bringing a murder case to trial in Baltimore, such witness problems are unsurprising. Yesterday marked the second postponement of Worrell's case - for exactly the same reasons.

"I've never had a case where witnesses weren't afraid," said Volatile. "It's inherent if there are witnesses in a homicide."

After a man who said he saw Worrell shoot Michael Lockett was killed in January, another witness backed out.

"The quote from him was, `One witness is already dead. I'm not going to be next,'" Volatile said. Investigators have not determined whether that killing was connected to the Worrell case, but Lockett's family members are convinced it was not, because the teen-ager charged in that killing was a friend of Lockett's.

Worrell, of the 1300 block of N. Caroline St., is accused of killing Lockett, 16, the evening of Aug. 14 last year. Police found Lockett's body, shot three times in the back, in the parking lot in the 1200 block of Lindenleaf Court in East Baltimore.

Lockett's mother, Pamela Bowie, said yesterday that a feud between the two had been festering for many months. Like so many in the city, the fatal argument was about rival allegiances: Lockett was friends with someone who had done something bad to one of Worrell's friends, she said, "so he retaliated against my son."

Lewis, who was off duty at the time of the shooting, initially told detectives he had been inside his mother's house two blocks away when he heard the shots that killed Lockett.

He did not call 911 and did not investigate the shooting, in part because he didn't have his police-issued gun with him - a breach of Police Department rules.

But 10 days later, Lewis' story changed. He had seen Lockett riding his bike moments before the shooting, and had seen Worrell running after the teen-ager, he said. In addition, he had had a conversation with one of the other witnesses to the crime just before it happened.

Lewis is the subject of an internal police investigation and has been stripped of his police powers.

Defense attorneys say his conflicting stories make Lewis a terrible, and potentially damaging, witness for the state. Not only can Worrell's lawyer attack his credibility, he can try to cast doubt on the testimony of the detectives who worked on the case.

However, Volatile said yester- day that he was ready to put Lewis on the witness stand, where he can explain why he did not come forward right away.

"I don't know him, but I've talked to people who do know him and they say he's a good officer and he's a good guy," said Volatile. He is confident jurors will think so, too.

If he can't get all his witnesses to appear - the next trial date is July 25 - Volatile said he could proceed. Clearly, though, his case would be diminished. "There's a big difference between having a viable case and having a case that you really expect to win," he said.

But Bowie, Lockett's mother, is adamant that everyone who saw what happened to her son has a responsibility to tell the jury. She doesn't brook the excuse of fear.

"Each one of the witnesses knows my son," she said. "If you can give a statement on tape of what you saw, why cop out now? ... It makes me feel that nobody cares."

And in a neighborhood where homicides are all too common, it's not inconceivable that the tables might one day be turned, Bowie added. "What if they were in that predicament? They would want somebody to do the right thing."

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