Slaying suspect is back in jail

Judge orders teen held after state wins appeal

Charged in Annapolis carjacking

Prosecutors seek to use Blake's alleged confession


November 19, 2003|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

For the past five months, Leeander Jerome Blake - the Annapolis teen charged in the slaying-carjacking of a city resident in the historic district - lived like many other teen-agers, working at a Kmart and trying to re-enroll in high school.

But yesterday, the same Anne Arundel County Circuit Court judge who released Blake from jail in June ordered him to be held without bond because prosecutors recently won an appeal to use his alleged confession as evidence.

Judge Pamela L. North had thrown out the confession because she said an Annapolis police officer improperly questioned Blake after he had invoked his right to have a lawyer present. An appeal by prosecutors triggered his release.

"The court is no longer duty-bound to release the defendant," North said, adding: "The only appropriate bond would be no bond."

The 18-year-old stood at the defense table and placed his hands behind his back on hearing North's decision.

Blake is one of two Annapolis residents accused of fatally shooting Straughan Lee Griffin, 51, in September last year. Terrence Tolbert, a 20-year-old neighbor of Blake's in the Robinwood public housing complex, also is charged.

Griffin, a partner in a specialty video projection firm in Columbia and a local sailing aficionado, was shot in the head as he unloaded groceries in front of his Cumberland Court home. The assailants then stole his Jeep Grand Cherokee and ran over his body as they drove off, police said.

Blake and Tolbert were arrested about a month after the crime, but both were released after Circuit Court judges ruled that their rights had been violated by Annapolis police officers. With no witnesses and no recovered weapon, the rulings stripped prosecutors of crucial evidence: alleged confessions during which each defendant reportedly blamed the other.

Prosecutors appealed, leading to the release of both men under a state law aimed at reducing frivolous appeals. Charges would have to be dropped and could not be refiled if prosecutors lost the appeal.

North barred the statement that Blake gave because she said Annapolis police Officer Curtis Reese illegally interrogated him in a holding cell the morning of his arrest by saying, "I bet you want to talk now, huh?" According to court testimony, Reese made the remark after the teen-ager was handed court papers saying he had been implicated in Griffin's death and could face the death penalty if convicted. Reese has denied making the comment and is the subject of an internal police investigation.

Blake had asked earlier for a lawyer, according to court testimony, meaning that he could no longer be interrogated unless he initiated contact with police.

In a 2-1 decision late last month, a Court of Special Appeals panel overturned North's decision to exclude Blake's alleged confession, paving the way for prosecutors to move forward with the trial and return the teen to jail.

Blake's lawyer, Kenneth W. Ravenell, asked the state's highest court to weigh in. Last week, the Court of Appeals agreed to hear Blake's appeal. Oral arguments are set for Feb. 9.

A Court of Special Appeals hearing in Tolbert's case has not been set. At issue in that case is whether an officer should have advised Tolbert of his rights to remain silent and to a lawyer after he was told that he failed a lie-detector test and then allegedly implicated himself.

Tolbert was released from jail in September, days after prosecutors filed their appeal. He has been living at home in Annapolis, according to his lawyer. Blake spent most of the past five months with his sister in Virginia, and the two defendants have had no contact, according to Ravenell.

During yesterday's bail-review hearing, Ravenell argued that his client should remain free because the appeals process has not been completed.

Ravenell promised North that Blake would continue to reside in Virginia - or with an uncle in Baltimore, if the court preferred - and would wear an electronic home-monitoring device. He assured the judge that Blake is a respectful young man who is mindful of his court dates.

The unusually lengthy bail review concluded with Ravenell asking for a $30,000 bond for his client. He told North that Blake is less culpable than Tolbert, saying that prosecutors have evidence that the elder defendant pulled the trigger and drove the vehicle. The lawyer described his client as "a young man that always seems to follow."

"That's about one of the most persuasive arguments for release that I've ever heard," North said. "Still, I'm not persuaded."

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