Evidence withheld in murder case, attorneys argue


September 24, 2004|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Defense attorneys for a Westminster man charged with murder accused investigating officers yesterday of withholding evidence that could have cleared their client, including police reports about a local inmate who allegedly admitted eight months ago to participating in the slaying.

In a memorandum filed yesterday in Carroll County Circuit Court, attorneys for Godfrey G. Miller III, 20, of the 200 block of E. Main St., accused Westminster police of failing to reveal evidence of other suspects in the bludgeoning death of Richard Atkins Jr., 30, whose body was found Dec. 29.

Clarence W. Beall, deputy state's attorney for Carroll County, said yesterday morning in a hearing that an investigation is being conducted by state troopers, who will review the new evidence and the actions of local police.

Defense attorneys James F. Elliott and Clarke F. Ahlers also asked Judge J. Barry Hughes to grant a bail review hearing for their client and order prosecutors to appear at the next hearing Oct. 4 with a complete file on the murder investigation.

Miller was charged in January with first-degree murder. He 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.

The memo filed by the defense attorneys listed brief descriptions of five key pieces of evidence that they received only recently. The list included Westminster police reports about a conversation among female inmates, one of whom allegedly admitted to participating in Atkins' murder. Defense attorneys allege that police had this information in January and that it should have been revealed to them at that time.

In a hearing this month, Westminster police officers testified that they did not find any physical evidence of Miller's presence at Atkins' apartment.

In asking for a complete investigation file yesterday, Elliott said, "There's so much new evidence. New reports have come out. What this will do is preserve the record for appeal. It really puts everyone on notice that when new reports come in, the judge should be provided everything."

The recently disclosed police reports summarize a conversation that allegedly occurred between two female Carroll County Detention Center inmates, who told officers that another female inmate admitted to participating in Atkins' killing. A separate report by a detention center officer also showed similar elements of the alleged conversation.

The inmate allegedly told the others that she and her boyfriend asked Atkins for money to buy drugs. When Atkins refused, the boyfriend struck Atkins twice in the head, she allegedly told other inmates. The inmate allegedly said she stole money from Atkins' wallet.

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, wrote in a report that he noticed an indentation in the back of Atkins' head consistent with "severe blunt force trauma resulting from a brutal assault."

He testified at the earlier hearing that two state police investigators were among those who gave a polygraph test to Miller, who confessed to assaulting Atkins with a heavy tool and to taking $10 from the victim's wallet and several CDs and DVDs from his home.

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

Miller, who had been a special-education student, told police that he did not realize he had killed Atkins, according to charging documents.

He was arrested several 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.

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, who has since been arrested in an armed robbery case.

The defense memo also mentions a handwritten note purporting a first-person account of a murder. The note was found in a novel at the Mount Airy branch of the Carroll County library this summer.

State police filed a report after a man who checked out Ride the Wind found the note tucked into the book's plastic cover. The note mentions no date or location, but it contains several details that match the circumstances of Atkins' death, including the fact that he was a dishwasher at Denny's, that his name was Richard and that he was hit by a blunt object.

The unknown author wrote, "They will never be able to prove I had anything to do with his death."

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