Gun case evidence will be allowed

Pistol and statements can be used in Jan. trial of city resident, judge says

10-year sentence possible

Pettiford charge stems from road-rage incident

December 24, 2003|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

A federal judge has refused to suppress evidence and incriminating statements in a high-profile gun case against Antoine J. Pettiford, a Baltimore man once viewed as a symbol of the city's crippled courts who could face a 10-year sentence in the federal system.

Pettiford, 32, is scheduled to stand trial next month in U.S. District Court in Baltimore on one count of illegally possessing a handgun as a convicted felon. The charge stemmed from a road-rage shooting along Harford Road on July 4 last year that left another man injured.

In pretrial motions, Pettiford asked Chief U.S. District Judge Benson E. Legg to block as evidence the .40-caliber semi-automatic pistol police found inside the glove box of Pettiford's green four-door sedan and statements to police in which Pettiford acknowledged firing the gun.

He also sought to suppress evidence from a gunshot residue test taken on the afternoon of the incident.

But in a ruling this month, Legg rejected Pettiford's assertions that police had acted improperly in collecting the evidence and questioning him about the case. The judge said he would allow the evidence and statements to be introduced at Pettiford's trial, scheduled to begin Jan. 26.

The ruling was an important one for prosecutors in their case against Pettiford, whose many tours through the city court system have gained him notoriety.

In 1995, Pettiford was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Oscar Edward Lewis Jr. - but later freed after Baltimore prosecutors and police were found to have mishandled the investigation. In 1996, another man, Detrius Smith, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to arranging the killing of Lewis and told authorities that he had never heard of Pettiford.

A Baltimore judge erased Pettiford's murder conviction in 1998 and offered him a new trial. Pettiford instead entered into a plea bargain that allowed him to immediately leave jail after serving nearly four years. In 2000, he was cleared of the crime entirely by a City Circuit judge who characterized evidence violations in the case as a "miscarriage of justice."

Back on the streets, Pettiford did not remain out of trouble.

In the month before the road rage incident, he pleaded guilty in Baltimore City Circuit Court to cocaine distribution charges. At the time, he was sentenced to seven years in prison, with all but one year suspended, and was allowed to remain free until July 17.

Authorities have described the July 4 shooting that led to the gun charge as a case of road rage, touched off by an earlier altercation between Pettiford and the other driver, Keith Goodie Sr. Both cars were struck by bullets, and police have said that Pettiford told detectives that he opened fire because Goodie shot at him first.

Goodie was injured in the incident; Pettiford was unhurt, as were two female passengers and a 3-year-old girl riding in his car at the time.

Pettiford was initially charged in state court with attempted murder and assault. Federal prosecutors stepped in to handle the case as a weapons violation at the urging of city prosecutors, who saw a greater likelihood of securing a conviction and long prison term for Pettiford in the federal system.

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