Detectives' testimony may hurt shooting case, prosecutor says

October 06, 2004|By Matthew Dolan | Matthew Dolan,SUN STAFF

While the testimony of investigating officers is often essential in criminal trials, a Baltimore prosecutor said yesterday that he may have a greater chance of winning a conviction in an attempted-murder case without the word of two city detectives who are being investigated for perjury.

"Maybe we'd be better off by putting the victim rather than the police on the stand," Gerard B. Volatile, an assistant state's attorney, said in an interview after a bail hearing for a man accused of attempted murder.

"We have jurors sitting on juries who hate the police," he said.

Antonio Hall, 24, of South Baltimore, who is accused of shooting and wounding a witness in a homicide case, failed in a bid to be released on bail yesterday and is scheduled to stand trial Oct. 26. City Circuit Judge Albert J. Matricciani Jr. said he would review Hall's bail request if he does not go on trial as scheduled.

Complicating the prosecution of the case is that two of its investigating officers, Southern District Detectives Clarence Grear and Kevin E. Jones, have been suspended while authorities look into whether they properly obtained a warrant to search a truck in July.

Prosecutors have dismissed charges in nearly two dozen cases handled by the two because of concerns about the officers' credibility. Another 70 cases investigated by the pair may also need to be scrapped.

Baltimore City Police Department spokesman Matt Jablow said Police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark is concerned that cases handled by Grear and Jones may have been dropped by prosecutors "prematurely."

"None of the allegations of wrongdoing have been upheld," Jablow said. "I think it would be a mistake for anyone to be impugning their characters."

Margaret Burns, a spokeswoman for Baltimore's State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, said that the internal investigation has been a challenge for prosecutors who rely on police testimony. But, Burns added, Volatile's views about city jurors' attitudes toward police were not necessarily representative of all prosecutors in the city state's attorney's office.

According to police documents, Hall is accused of shooting Robert Parson, who was a witness in a homicide case involving a friend of Hall. Parson survived the February shooting and identified his masked assailant as Hall.

Hall's lawyer, Catherine Flynn, argued that the detectives' credibility - and the case itself - had been undermined by the allegations against the officers.

"If you're not credible, you're not credible," Flynn said yesterday outside the courtroom.

Volatile contended that the prosecution's case does not rely on the detectives' testimony because Parson has stood by his story, repeating his account to another officer recently and vowing to testify if necessary.

"We don't need to call the detectives," Volatile said, adding that he hasn't made a final decision on whether Grear or Jones would be a witness.

Legal experts said the tactic of keeping a detective off the witness stand is not far-fetched.

"There are many individual cases where you don't need the investigating officer," said Abraham Dash, a professor of criminal procedure at University of Maryland School of Law.

Cases in which the police have firsthand information - a description of a fleeing bank robber or a confession after an interrogation, for example - might require testimony from the officer, said Dash.

Flynn remained skeptical.

"In cases where detectives testify, they are not usually witnesses to the crime in attempted-murder and murder cases," she said. "They talk about the nature of the investigation and the chronology of how they got from point A to point B.

"Who's going to do that now?"

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