Officials had discussed Sands case photos

But state says it was told witness had not seen them

October 31, 2002|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

Prosecutors and detectives working the murder case against Tavon Donya Sands discussed a few weeks ago the possibility that a witness had been asked to look at suspect photos during the investigation - and were ultimately satisfied that he had not, officials said yesterday.

So it was a surprise Tuesday when witness Gaston Leonard Davis testified that he had, in fact, seen a series of photographs that included Sands - testimony that, because it had not been previously disclosed to the defense, forced a mistrial in the case.

"We were advised that the array had not been shown to this witness," Deputy State's Attorney I. Matthew Campbell said yesterday. "And we had no reason to believe otherwise."

The details surrounding a police officer's contact with Davis and discussions of police and prosecution officials about whether Davis had been shown the photographs remained unclear yesterday.

Davis admitted on the stand Tuesday that he had been an uncooperative witness - lying to police and dodging investigators who wanted him to testify before a Howard County grand jury - until he was charged with obstruction of justice after a confrontation with officers who were looking for his girlfriend, another witness in the case. He testified that he was later told that if he cooperated in the Sands case the charge would be dismissed.

The officer Davis said showed him the photos, Jeff Harper, could not be reached for comment yesterday, and both Howard Police Chief Wayne Livesay and Campbell said they had not spoken with Harper.

Campbell said he could not comment further because he expects the issue to become part of a motion by Sands' defense attorney, Joseph Murtha, to dismiss the case.

"We think it was just attributable to the fallibility of human endeavor," Campbell said.

But Campbell and Livesay said yesterday that whether Davis had been shown a photo lineup was the subject of some discussion among police and prosecutors as recently as a few weeks before the trial.

Livesay said yesterday that he is looking into what happened and does not "have all the answers yet."

"I want him [Sands] tried as quickly as possible," he said.

Sands, 21, is charged with first-degree murder, armed robbery and related offenses stemming from the fatal shooting of computer student DeShawn Anthony Wallace, 23, during a botched robbery in the 5800 block of Stevens Forest Road on Jan. 25.

But any retrial is likely months away. Murtha said yesterday that he expects to file a motion to dismiss the case within the next few weeks. He expects to argue, he said, that double jeopardy - the constitutional provision that bars trying a defendant twice for the same crime - would prevent a retrial.

Any hearing likely would involve calling witnesses to testify about the photo issue that halted this week's trial, he said.

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