Murder suspect charged in drug deal

Police say he sold crack during his pretrial release

March 02, 2004|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Murder suspect Terrence Tolbert has been charged with dealing crack cocaine from the Annapolis street on which he lived while he was released during a pretrial appeal by prosecutors in the murder case.

Tolbert, 21, was seen by police and videotaped selling crack cocaine Jan. 15, according to allegations in the charging documents. Police did not seek an arrest warrant until Feb. 18, a day after Tolbert was jailed on an unrelated drug charge, because his bond had been revoked in that case. He was served with the warrant Thursday.

The charge compounds Tolbert's problems and fuels a heated debate over efforts by prosecutors to change the law that mandates the automatic release of criminal suspects when prosecutors appeal a judge's pretrial ruling.

Tolbert, who lost his right arm to electrocution when he was 8, and a neighbor in the Robinwood public housing complex, Leeander Jerome Blake, 18, are accused of the high-profile Sept. 19, 2002, slaying of Straughan Lee Griffin in Annapolis' Historic District. The 51-year-old businessman was shot in the head while unloading groceries in front of his home. His keys were taken and as he lay in the street, his fleeing attackers ran over him with his Jeep.

Tolbert's admission to police that it was "a robbery gone bad" was thrown out last year by Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Ronald A. Silkworth, who said Tolbert's rights were violated. But the state's highest court reversed Silkworth's ruling last month and ordered the case to trial. No date has been set.

When Silkworth released Tolbert last year, he ordered him to check in daily with jail workers and submit to drug tests. No problems were reported.

"I don't know anything about this," said Mark A. Van Bavel, appointed to represent Tolbert in the murder case. "I didn't know anything about it until he and I spoke Thursday to discuss the bail hearing" [on Friday].

Tolbert faces four drug charges, the most serious of which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. According to the charging documents, Annapolis city and Anne Arundel County police were conducting surveillance Jan. 15 in the 1300 block of Tyler Ave., where Tolbert and Blake live. Police described the area as an "open-air drug market." About 1:30 p.m., two men - one of them Tolbert - approached the driver of a yellow truck, and both conducted transactions with the driver before he left, police charge. When the motorist was stopped nearby, police found crack cocaine, the court papers allege.

This is Tolbert's second pending drug case. At the time of Griffin's slaying, he was awaiting trial on PCP charges.

Anne Arundel County State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee said he hopes legislators keep Tolbert's latest arrest in mind when they consider changing the law ordering release when prosecutors take a pretrial appeal.

"I think that the fact that he was arrested and may have committed another offense while out should indicate to the legislature that maybe the judge who is closest to the matter is the best one to determine the conditions of pretrial release, if any release," he said.

Griffin's slaying took place a few blocks from State House offices, where in recent weeks the House Judiciary Committee has held hearings on the bills and Griffin's sister tearfully testified.

Prosecutors also appealed another judge's decision to throw out Blake's confession to police, temporarily freeing Blake. But an appeals court overturned that ruling, which Blake, now in jail, is challenging.

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