Lawyers for murder defendant Leeander Jerome Blake urged an Anne Arundel County judge yesterday to discard a key item of evidence against the 17-year-old in the high-profile slaying of an Annapolis historic district resident last fall.
But prosecutors say that Blake, who is due to go on trial Wednesday, voluntarily made statements implicating himself and a neighbor in the killing.
Blake and Terrence Tolbert, 20, are charged with first-degree murder in the Sept. 19 carjacking murder of Straughan Lee Griffin, 51, who was shot in the head shortly before dusk as he unloaded groceries in front of his home near the State House.
In statements to police, each defendant claimed that the other shot Griffin, a founder and partner in Performance AV, a specialty video projection company in Columbia, according to police and remarks made in court yesterday. Both Blake and Tolbert contend that as Griffin lay dying in the cul-de-sac, the other took the keys to his Jeep Cherokee and drove over him.
Blake's statement would allow prosecutors to use his words to link him to the crime. Police did not find the gun used to shoot Griffin.
In a hearing that took place over two days, defense lawyers Kenneth W. Ravenell and Ivan J. Bates argued that Annapolis police wrongly induced Blake to talk to them after he had told them when he was arrested that he would not talk and wanted a lawyer.
"Once a defendant invokes his right to counsel, there can be no initiation" of questioning by police, Ravenell argued yesterday.
Prosecutors contend that Blake, in an Annapolis Police Department holding cell shortly after his arrest about 5 a.m. Oct. 26, changed his mind about talking when he saw charging documents and learned that Tolbert had implicated him as the shooter and driver.
"There is no obligation on the police to determine why he changed his mind," said Assistant State's Attorney Pamela K. Alban. She also said that Blake appeared to be intelligent and to understand what he was doing.
On the witness stand yesterday, Blake testified that he was cold - he was wearing shorts - and terrified in the cell on the day of questioning.
`I was just scared'
"I was just scared. I just got my charges. I was shook," he said. He said he saw on charging documents that he was charged with murder and could face the death penalty.
Charging papers state the maximum sentence for each crime alleged, but the state's attorney's office is seeking life without the possibility of parole for the two Robinwood public housing residents. As a juvenile, Blake can not be given the death penalty.
Blake also said he would not have agreed to questioning under a lie detector if police hadn't told him it would help him.
Under cross-examination, Blake agreed with Alban that he "did not want to take the fall for Mr. Tolbert" and that it was important to him that police believe him.
In his testimony, Detective William Johns said that shortly after police arrested Blake, he explained to Blake his Miranda rights. The teen-ager said he would not talk and was placed in the holding cell. Soon after, Jones said, he gave Blake the charging documents.
The detective said he was surprised to hear Officer Curtis Reese - who was involved in Blake's arrest and the search of his house but not the murder probe - say, "I bet you want to talk now."
"I said, `He's already asked for an attorney, so we can't talk with him,'" Johns said.
Shortly after, Johns testified, Blake asked the detective if he could speak with him. Blake was read his rights again and questioned. He also agreed to be questioned under a lie detector, which took place later in the morning.
On the witness stand, Reese denied making the remark to Blake.
In arguing that Blake's statements should be allowed at trial, Alban told Circuit Judge Pamela L. North that while Reese's remark might have been "coercive," a look at the circumstances shows they do not constitute an interrogation.
North said she felt that Reese's remark was an interrogation, but also said there have to be circumstances under which a defendant can change his mind and talk to police. She said she expects to rule either Monday afternoon or Tuesday on whether to allow the statements at trial.
Tolbert's trial was rescheduled from last month to September.
Sun staff writer Laura Loh contributed to this article.