High court asked to hear carjacking case

Attorney general appeals ruling in Annapolis killing

September 16, 2004|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Maryland's attorney general asked the U.S. Supreme Court this week to overturn a state court ruling that caused a high-profile homicide-carjacking case against an Annapolis teenager to fizzle.

The petition by Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. contends that Annapolis police did not violate the constitutional rights of Leeander Jerome Blake when they took his statements allegedly implicating himself in the Sept. 19, 2002, killing of businessman Straughan Lee Griffin in front of his home. Griffin was unloading groceries before dusk when he was shot in the head, robbed of the keys to his Jeep Grand Cherokee and run over by the stolen vehicle.

With Curran's move, the future of the prosecution against Blake and the other suspect in the killing, Terrence Tolbert, rests with the nation's highest court. Tolbert's attorneys have asked the Supreme Court to review a Maryland decision allowing his incriminating statements to be used.

Blake was freed in June after the Maryland Court of Appeals, ruling against prosecutors, found that police violated his constitutional rights by talking to him after he invoked his right to silence and a lawyer.

Maryland law requires that if the prosecution loses a pretrial appeal, the charges must be dismissed and the defendant can never be charged again with the same crime.

Tolbert implicated himself, describing the carjacking and shooting as "a robbery gone bad," according to testimony by police. Blake was charged after Tolbert identified him as the gunman, prosecutors said.

Court testimony showed that Blake initially refused to speak with Detective William Johns and asked for a lawyer. But another officer intervened and was immediately reprimanded by Johns for goading the teenager. A half-hour later, Blake, after reading the charging papers against him, asked to speak with Johns. An Anne Arundel County Circuit Court judge said that this violated Blake's rights because he had asked to see a lawyer before talking to police, a decision upheld by Maryland's highest court.

The attorney general's office disagreed. "He [Blake] initiated the discussion with police," said Kathryn G. Graeff, chief of the criminal appeals division of the state attorney general's office.

But Kenneth W. Ravenell, Blake's lawyer, said he hopes the Supreme Court, which hears a fraction of requests, won't accede to the state's request.

The court will schedule a date for Blake's request. Meanwhile, the court is scheduled to consider the request by Tolbert's lawyers this month.

Because Tolbert lost in the Court of Appeals, his murder trial was to begin this month. But it was postponed because of the pending high-court action.

Tolbert, 21, remains in custody at the Anne Arundel County Detention Center. Blake, 19, lives with relatives in Virginia.

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