Suspect in shooting is killed days after charge is dropped

January 26, 2003|By Kimberly A.C. Wilson | Kimberly A.C. Wilson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore police identified the victim of a fatal shooting Friday night in East Baltimore as a man who days before had walked away from attempted-murder charges.

James Woodard, 19, was shot in the head about 11 p.m. after arguing with three men at Monument Street and Milton Avenue, Officer Troy Harris, a police spokesman, said yesterday.

Woodard would have been a familiar face to homicide detectives: He had been a witness in an attempted-murder trial two years ago and was charged last year in another case.

Woodard was arrested May 13 and charged in the shooting of Antoine Alston, 21.

Alston, a convicted burglar, survived that attack and was cooperating with police, but he was fatally shot a month later while Woodard awaited trial in the Baltimore City Detention Center.

Even without their key witness, prosecutors had hoped to win an attempted-murder conviction against Woodard with the help of Sean Braxton, who had seen the shooting. But in a pattern that is increasingly frustrating authorities, Braxton grew skittish about testifying and skipped two trial dates and a bench warrant.

After repeated postponements, prosecutors were forced to drop the case last week and release Woodard to his home in the 900 block of N. Patterson Park Ave.

Woodard's death drew a quick response from the state's attorney's office.

"Our witnesses won't come to court. Our witnesses are being killed. Our witnesses are going underground," Margaret T. Burns, spokeswoman for the city state's attorney, said last night. "We're seeing an escalating pattern of these serious violent repeat offenders, a subculture where the offenders are taking justice into their own hands."

Such street justice "basically short-circuits us from being effective prosecutors," she added.

In a letter sent a week ago to acting police Commissioner John McEntee, State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy said "public safety is impacted" by the recent flurry of retaliation cases.

Jessamy has previously asked Mayor Martin O'Malley and former police Commissioner Edward T. Norris to assign police detectives full time to the prosecutor's office to track down reluctant witnesses for trial.

"I believe this joint partnership would improve the successful prosecution of cases threatened when witnesses fail to appear," she said in the letter.

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