Murder trial ends in acquittal after problems with witnesses

August 03, 2002|By Sarah Koenig | Sarah Koenig,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore jury acquitted a 22-year-old man yesterday in a case that exemplifies how extreme witness problems can undermine murder prosecutions in the city.

Keko O. Worrell of the 1300 block of N. Caroline St. was on trial in the killing last August of Michael Lockett, 16, who was shot three times in the back in an East Baltimore parking lot as he was riding a bicycle.

City prosecutor Gerald Volatile began the trial Tuesday with three witnesses - two of whom had been arrested for being uncooperative and were under court supervision.

But on Wednesday his strongest witness, 30-year-old Ed Brown, slipped out of the courthouse and disappeared before he was called to testify. Police were unable to find him, and Volatile was left with two witnesses, who all but recanted their stories, he said.

What the jury did not know was that Volatile initially had six eyewitnesses to work with, including police Officer Gary Lewis. But Lewis, off duty when the shooting occurred, gave investigators two different versions of what he had seen. Volatile realized Lewis would do more harm to the case than good, and so did not call him at trial.

Another eyewitness was slain in January, which frightened the other witnesses. Another invoked his constitutional protection against self-incrimination, since he is awaiting trial in a separate murder case that could be connected to Lockett's death.

The case is one piece in a puzzle that includes four other killings and a shooting that appear to be an East Baltimore war of retribution - and not unusual in the city's drug trade.

What is unusual is to have such a string of witness disasters, said Volatile.

"I have had cases before where witnesses were murdered," he said. "But I've never had a witness walk out of the witness room and never come back. I've never had a case where I couldn't put a police officer on the stand because it was going to be more trouble than it was worth."

Worrell is serving a prison term for a felony narcotics conviction, Volatile said.

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