Judge declares mistrial on first day of Harford murder case

Baltimore & Region

November 03, 2005|By JUSTIN FENTON | JUSTIN FENTON,SUN REPORTER

In May, Frank Vernon Rainey Jr. drove to a police precinct in Edgewood, his jacket stained with blood, and confessed to killing his ex-girlfriend, whose body was in his car parked outside, Harford police said.

A note written by Rainey two days earlier had been found at his Prince George's County home and described his plan to kill Crystal Marie Busta - if he couldn't have her, the note read, no one could, prosecutors said.

"This is as clear a case of premeditation as you will likely hear," Assistant State's Attorney Vernon Gentile told a jury yesterday during opening statements in Rainey's murder trial in Harford County Circuit Court.

But the trial took an unexpected turn when Judge Stephen M. Waldron declared a mistrial after a police witness testified that Rainey told officers at the southern precinct the night of the shooting that he previously had killed three other people. Testimony about possible prior crimes is inadmissible as evidence because jurors are supposed to evaluate only the case before them.

Rainey, of Oxon Hill, is accused of first-degree murder and illegal possession of a regulated firearm in the killing of Busta. The 26-year-old Edgewood resident had broken up with Rainey a week before the shooting, after a two-month relationship that began on the Internet, police said. After plea negotiations stalled, prosecutors set out to seek the maximum penalty of life without parole plus 20 years.

The trial had been under way little more than an hour before the testimony that Rainey allegedly confessed to other crimes, which lawyers said were under investigation in other jurisdictions. Waldron quickly ushered the jury out and granted a defense motion for a mistrial.

"I see no way to fix this, no way for the defendant to get a fair trial," the judge said.

A new trial was set for Dec. 9.

Gentile and Busta's family members said the three murders Rainey is alleged to have admitted to are under investigation in the District of Columbia, a claim police there said they could not confirm or deny. Rainey has not been charged with any crime in Washington, according to a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office.

In opening statements, Gentile told the jury that Busta had sought to return Rainey's engagement ring, and Rainey called her to arrange a time to pick it up.

Prosecutors said Rainey arrived at Busta's apartment complex the night of May 18. Busta got into the car as Rainey hid a gun behind the passenger seat, they said. He pulled the gun to the side of her head and pulled the trigger, instantly killing her, prosecutors alleged.

An officer working at the southern precinct that night testified yesterday that Rainey arrived there about 1:20 a.m. and confessed. The officer testified that Rainey said, "I have my girlfriend in the car, and I just shot her."

Rainey's attorney did not dispute those facts in his opening statement. District public defender Lloyd G. Merriam instead urged the jury to consider the emotions of being heartbroken, and the frustration a "working man" experiences when purchasing an expensive engagement ring, only to be dumped.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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