Murder suspect charged with soliciting killing of witnesses

Officials say intimidation on the rise in Balto. Co.

February 02, 2005|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Jailed and awaiting trial on armed robbery and attempted murder charges, a 19-year-old Middle River man is facing new charges that he arranged to have two witnesses in that case killed.

Joshua Anthony Mumford was arrested Monday night and charged with two counts of soliciting first-degree murder, court records show. Police persuaded Mumford's cellmate at the Baltimore County Detention Center to wear a digital recording device, which captured Mumford refusing suggestions that the witnesses could be kidnapped and held for a while rather than killed, according to court documents.

"Mumford declines, saying that the state will only postpone the case and will charge him again after the witnesses return," Baltimore County police wrote in the statement of charges filed in District Court. "He reiterates that he wants the witnesses murdered."

FOR THE RECORD - A headline yesterday incorrectly described the initial charge against a Middle River man who, according to court records, has additionally been charged with two counts of soliciting first-degree murder. The man was initially charged with attempted murder.

The two witnesses, 19-year-old Ramin Atri and 20-year-old Kosmas Koukoulis, were shot - allegedly by Mumford - on Oct. 21 in White Marsh when Mumford tried to steal money and four pounds of marijuana from the men, whom he had met earlier that night, court records state. They were expected to testify at the Feb. 28 trial of Mumford and two co-defendants - Angelo L. Mumford, 21, and Dustin C. Fifer, 21, both of Middle River.

"I'm shocked and I'm worried," said Atri's mother, who asked that her name not be published for fear that her family might be harmed. "I don't know if they'll shoot me or my family."

The arrest is the most recent example of what county prosecutors say is an increase in attempts to interfere with witness testimony in Baltimore County criminal cases.

"It is my experience that traditionally we have not had a problem with witness intimidation in Baltimore County," said Jason G. League, an assistant Baltimore County state's attorney. "However, times are a-changin'."

League prosecuted a murder case last year in which the defendant, Christopher A. Bacote, was accused of threatening witnesses. Charges of obstruction of justice were dropped, however, when Bacote pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and a handgun charge for fatally shooting a Morgan State University student after a college party in October 2003 at a Timonium bowling alley.

Bacote, 20, of Baltimore was sentenced in November to 50 years in prison.

Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy has said that witness intimidation is a part of nearly all her office's homicide cases. Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley identified witness intimidation as a major public safety issue in his State of the City address this week. And recent high-profile instances of intimidation - including the firebombing of the home of a woman who called police about drug dealing in her neighborhood, and a locally produced DVD called Stop Snitching that warns crime witnesses to keep their mouths shut - have helped give the issue new urgency.

At least three witness-intimidation bills are being considered by the General Assembly, including a measure proposed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. that would permit some statements by intimidated witnesses to be used in court even if the witnesses are not present. The bill also would increase the maximum penalty for witness intimidation to 20 years in prison.

Joshua Mumford, charged in the solicitation-for-murder case in Baltimore County, faces up to life in prison if convicted.

His alleged plans for the witnesses in his court case first came to authorities' attention Jan. 18 through Mumford's cellmate at the Baltimore County Detention Center, according to charging documents. The cellmate told police that Mumford said he wanted to have the two witnesses killed and asked him whether he "has someone who can take care of something like that," court records show.

At the detectives' request, the cellmate agreed to wear a digital recorder to the detention center and resume his conversation with Mumford, charging documents show.

According to the documents, Mumford told his cellmate "that he has no conscience and will not regret the killing." During the conversation, the cellmate made a phone call and had Mumford talk to a county homicide detective who posed as someone named "KC" and talked to Mumford about getting "the payment for this contract murder," according to court records.

When Mumford could not make arrangements for the $1,500 payment, he agreed in a conversation taped Jan. 24 "to kill anyone for [the cellmate] or his friends when he gets out of jail," according to court documents.

A Baltimore County District Court judge ordered yesterday that Mumford, who had been held in lieu of $250,000 bail, be held without bail on the new charges.

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