Murder case dropped over trial delays

Man had been charged in toddler's beating death

February 17, 2005|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore circuit judge yesterday dismissed first-degree murder charges against a man accused in the beating death of his girlfriend's 20-month-old son, ruling that prosecutors had failed to give him a speedy trial.

On the day his murder trial was scheduled to begin, Timothy Horne was ordered released from jail by Circuit Judge David Mitchell. The judge ruled that prosecutors had acted inappropriately in postponing Horne's trial without giving proper notice to his defense lawyer.

The city state's attorney's office plans to appeal the judge's decision, a spokeswoman said. Baltimore prosecutors could recall no other instance in which a judge dismissed a case because the defendant's constitutional right to a speedy trial had been violated.

Horne, along with his girlfriend, Camille Marie Bivins, was charged in April 2003 with the beating death of Messiah Wright, Bivins' son. Both have been held without bail since their arrests.

Messiah was found unconscious in October 2002 in the couple's East Baltimore apartment on Daywalt Avenue. Medical examiners determined that Messiah had "chronic and acute injuries," including brain damage, according to charging documents.

Bivins pleaded guilty Sept. 29 at the start of her first-degree murder trial. The couple's cases were to be tried separately, and Bivins was to testify against Horne, prosecutors said.

But Horne's attorney, James Rhodes, said his client's case was delayed nine times -- several times without the defense lawyer's knowledge.

"This was either intentional or gross negligence" on the part of the prosecutor, Rhodes said after Mitchell's decision.

At issue, in part, was the failure of the prosecutor's office to adjust Horne's trial date, even though the timing of Bivins' trial had been changed.

Assistant State's Attorney Mary Ann Burkhart moved Bivins' trial date to Sept. 29 from Oct. 12 when she learned that an expert witness would be out of town throughout October, said Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for the state's attorney's office.

"Her only mistake was trying to be proactive," Burns said. "She was trying to expedite [the Bivins] case in the interest of justice."

Burns said the prosecutor did not believe she needed to accelerate Horne's trial, also scheduled for Oct. 12, though it would include the same expert witness. The judge, in his ruling yesterday, disagreed.

Rhodes said his experience has been that prosecutors notify all involved defense attorneys ahead of time if they anticipate asking for a postponement.

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