Murder case lacks physical evidence

Defense seeks to suppress Westminster man's statement

Victim was bludgeoned to death

Defendant's mental status called into question by lawyer


September 03, 2004|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Westminster police officers testified yesterday during a court hearing that the only evidence they have linking a young Westminster man to a killing last year is a confession obtained after a polygraph test.

During a Carroll County Circuit Court hearing in which the defense attorney sought to suppress the alleged confession, two Westminster police officers testified during cross-examination that they did not find any physical evidence of the defendant's presence at the apartment where Richard Paul Atkins Jr., 30, was found bludgeoned to death Dec. 29.

Godfrey G. Miller III, of the 200 block of E. Main St., was charged in January with first-degree murder. Miller was also charged with several counts of assault and robbery, as well as theft and carrying a deadly weapon with the intent to injure, according to court records.

He was also charged with burglarizing Atkins' room Dec. 18 and stealing CDs and DVDs.

A motion filed by prosecutors seeks to allow evidence from the burglary investigation into the murder trial, which is scheduled for the first week of next month.

Judge J. Barry Hughes said he is likely to issue a written decision on the motions.

During the daylong hearing yesterday, police testified that they have not recovered the murder weapon, or the CDs, DVDs and money that Miller is accused of stealing from Atkins, a dishwasher at a Denny's restaurant on Route 140 and Englar Road.

Police have said robbery was the apparent motive in the killing, one of Carroll County's two confirmed homicides last year.

Miller's arrest came 12 days after Atkins was found dead by his mother, who had gone to check on him at his boardinghouse room in the 100 block of E. Main St. about 12:30 p.m., police said. Atkins' parents were in court yesterday wearing T-shirts decorated with a photo of their only son.

Atkins' supervisor at the restaurant also was concerned because Atkins did not show up for work that Sunday.

Miller, who turns 20 today, fidgeted throughout the hearing.

Police said in court that they connected Miller to the killing after two witnesses claimed that Miller told them he had been at the scene of the crime with someone else.

Questions on burglary

Clarke F. Ahlers, a lawyer based in Columbia who was appointed Miller's pro bono defense counsel, told the judge that one informant had a grudge against Miller's family stemming from a custody issue.

Westminster patrol officer Robert Bollinger testified that he saw Miller at the boardinghouse after Atkins' apartment was burglarized Dec. 18, and that he questioned Miller about the 25 to 30 CDs and DVDs that were reported stolen.

Court testimony showed that Miller was not a suspect in the murder investigation until Jan. 9.

Instead, police testified, the primary suspect was a convicted felon recently released from prison, a drug addict who has since been arrested in an armed robbery case.

Ahlers told the judge that the first suspect lived a floor below Atkins and had returned a set of weights to another neighbor -- minus one barbell.

Atkins was found on his back on the floor of his one-room apartment, a large pool of blood surrounding his head, charging documents showed.

Westminster police Lt. Wayne B. Mann, commander of the department's criminal investigation division, reported that he noticed an indentation in the back of Atkins' head consistent with "severe blunt force trauma resulting from a brutal assault."

Court records showed that state medical examiners determined the cause of death was two blows to the head.

Mann testified that two state police investigators were among those who gave a polygraph test to Miller. "I was informed the defendant had admitted to murder," Mann testified.

Mental status issue

Ahlers told the judge that his client had been a special-education student and bordered on being mentally retarded. He then questioned police procedures in handling the interrogation.

Mann testified that he had no reason to question Miller's mental status.

He said Miller confessed to assaulting Atkins with a heavy tool -- perhaps a wrench -- and to taking $10 from the victim's wallet, along with several CDs and DVDs. Miller told police he did not realize he had killed Atkins, according to charging documents.

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