Carjack killing trial can proceed

Justices reject appeal in Historic District case

Comments to police admissible


October 05, 2004|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

An Annapolis man accused in the carjack killing of a businessman outside his home in the city's Historic District two years ago can be tried on first-degree murder charges now that the nation's highest court has rejected his bid to exclude self-incriminating statements made to police.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined yesterday to hear a challenge by Terrence Tolbert, 21, to a ruling last year by Maryland's highest courts allowing prosecutors to use Tolbert's statements about his suspected role in the killing of Straughan Lee Griffin.

The trial, which had been postponed while on appeal, is scheduled for early January in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court and is expected to take a week.

Tolbert, who is being held in the Anne Arundel County Detention Center awaiting trial, was charged in the case along with Leeander Jerome Blake, 19.

Assistant Public Defender William Nolan, one of Tolbert's lawyers, said yesterday, "I'm disappointed that the court did not wish to review the case. At the same time, the court receives thousands of petitions and only grants about 80 a year, so statistically speaking, its not surprising."

The ruling was a key victory for prosecutors, whose case evaporated last year when a judge threw out two of Tolbert's three statements to police.

Prosecutors appealed, a huge gamble because when they lose such a pretrial appeal, Maryland law requires that the charges be dismissed. They then won in the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, leaving a Supreme Court appeal as Tolbert's only option.

"The case will proceed to trial using the statements of Mr. Tolbert," said Arundel State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee.

Kathryn Grill Graeff, chief of criminal appeals for the state attorney general's office, said, "The court has left intact a Maryland Court of Appeals ruling that Mr. Tolbert's rights were not violated."

Griffin, 51, was unloading groceries in front of his home just before dusk Sept. 19, 2002, when he was shot in the head, robbed of the keys to his Jeep Grand Cherokee and run over by the stolen vehicle.

Tolbert, who lost his right arm in a childhood accident, was arrested after witnesses said they had seen a one-armed youth near Griffin's home, a few blocks from the State House.

At pretrial hearings, police testified that Tolbert termed the killing of Griffin "a robbery gone bad" but blamed the crime on Blake, his friend and neighbor in an Annapolis public housing community. Tolbert told police that he was neither the shooter nor the driver of the fleeing vehicle. He said Blake had a gun.

Tolbert's attorneys claimed that his second and third statements to police violated his constitutional rights, arguing that the Miranda warnings their client was read before he was given a lie detector test were invalid for the two later statements. They said Tolbert should have been given new Miranda warnings after taking that test.

A day after police charged Tolbert, they arrested Blake, who was freed this year under a quirk of Maryland law.

Blake claimed that police violated his rights by eliciting incriminating remarks after he had asked for a lawyer.

His argument succeeded in Anne Arundel Circuit Court, but the ruling was overturned in Maryland's second-highest court and then reinstated by the state's highest court. Because prosecutors lost their appeal on the use of those statements, Blake was freed.

The Maryland attorney general's office asked the Supreme Court last month to reinstate the admissibility of his statements, which would allow Blake to be tried.

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