Acquitted 3 times, man on trial again

Cleared in murder cases, he faces drug charges

March 12, 2003|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Courtney Noakes, a Baltimore man who beat three murder charges and has become a symbol of the city's flawed criminal justice system, went on trial again yesterday, accused of dealing heroin five months after a jury acquitted him of killing a 24-year-old man.

The trial lasted about two hours yesterday, and jurors were sent home last night. They will begin deliberating this morning on whether Noakes, 22, and co-defendant Thurron Johnson, 29, are guilty of possession with intent to distribute heroin and conspiracy to distribute heroin.

If convicted, each could be sentenced up to 40 years in prison.

The 6-foot-7-inch, 300-pound Noakes was called a "bad guy" by State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy after his third murder acquittal. She also said he "played the system."

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's editions of The Sun incorrectly reported Courtney Noakes' criminal trial record. He was charged with murder three times and was acquitted twice. In the third case, the charge was dropped by prosecutors before trial. The Sun regrets the error.

Yesterday, Noakes dwarfed his co-defendant, who barely rose to Noakes' shoulder when standing. Both men stared straight ahead with blank faces as they listened to testimony and the lawyers' arguments.

"These two defendants made a decision to distribute heroin," prosecutor Nancy Olin told the jury.

Assistant Public Defender Angela Shelton said Noakes and Johnson are innocent, and she sharply criticized the way the defendants were charged with the crime.

"The state wants you to believe that just because Mr. Noakes had money on his person that day, he is involved in the drug trade," Shelton said.

Noakes and Johnson were arrested Jan. 16 last year after Detective Kelly Harrison saw them selling heroin on a West Baltimore street, according to testimony. Noakes had $246 in his pants pocket, court records show.

Noakes' mother, Sharon McCormick, a medical technician, testified yesterday that her son had the money because she gives him an allowance of $400 to $500 every two weeks.

Harrison testified that he responded to a telephone tip that drugs were being sold in the 2300 block of Whittier Ave. He went to the area, set himself up at a lookout point and, using binoculars, saw Noakes accepting money from people on the street, he said.

Harrison testified that he then saw Johnson cross the street to a "stash," pick up drugs and "serve" the customers.

Harrison arrested the men, then found six bags of heroin in the stash area across the street, he testified.

The trial is before Circuit Judge David Ross, who presided over Noakes' first murder trial, in which Noakes was acquitted in 1999 of killing night watchman Steven Gabriel with five bullets near Reisterstown Road.

In Noakes' second murder case, the state dropped charges against him in 2001 when police missteps were revealed, including detectives' misplacing the file shortly after the killing.

In the third case, jurors said they acquitted Noakes because the state presented a weak case with little evidence.

Noakes was convicted in 2000 of selling cocaine and twice got probation for drug possession as a juvenile.

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