Defense, noting Dawson case publicity, requests change of venue for arson trial

March 04, 2003|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

Attorneys for an East Baltimore man accused of torching a neighbor's home in one of the city's deadliest arsons asked a judge yesterday to move the federal trial outside Baltimore, saying the region's residents are so outraged by the tragedy that they could not serve as impartial jurors.

Darrell L. Brooks, 21, is scheduled to stand trial in September in U.S. District Court in Baltimore in connection with the October arson that killed Carnell and Angela Dawson and their five children. Brooks, who was charged late last year in a 10-count federal indictment, could receive the death penalty if convicted.

In court papers filed yesterday, his public defenders noted that the extensive news coverage of Brooks' case has consistently repeated investigators' unproven claims that the fire was set in retaliation for the Dawsons' efforts to fight drug dealing in their neighborhood.

"In light of this pretrial publicity, it will be extremely difficult for the defense team to disprove such a theory, even though there may be good reason to doubt it," federal Public Defender James Wyda said in court papers.

Wyda did not elaborate or point to any evidence to refute what investigators have described as the motive.

In court papers, Wyda said it "is proper that this community has been outraged by this tragedy, and severely traumatized by the loss of an entire family, including five innocent children."

"But, while such a powerful emotional response is quite understandable, it also means that Darrell Brooks cannot be fairly tried in this city," Wyda wrote. "In light of this community's intense pain, and the media's high-level reporting on the case, a vote of guilty must now be viewed as a vote in favor of the Dawson family ... and a vote against the predatory drug behavior that hasplagued this city for so many years."

Also yesterday, Brooks' attorneys said the warrant that led to a search of Brooks' home in the days after the arson was improper and that any evidence seized during the search should be inadmissible at trial. Investigators have said they found a glass jar containing gasoline in Brooks' bedroom during the search.

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