Prosecutors drop murder charges

City man who spent seven years in jail to be released as 1998 conviction is overturned

December 17, 2005|By SUMATHI REDDY | SUMATHI REDDY,SUN REPORTER

City prosecutors dismissed murder charges yesterday against a man whose 1998 conviction was vacated in October, resulting in the release of a 30-year-old Baltimore man after more than seven years in prison.

Rodney Addison was convicted of second-degree murder and possession of a handgun in the 1996 shooting of Lewis Jackson. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison in April 1998.

After several unsuccessful appeals, Circuit Judge Edward R.K. Hargadon ordered a new trial for Addison in October, ruling that the state failed to disclose three witness statements that "undermined the confidence of the entire verdict."

City prosecutors determined they did not have the witnesses or evidence to proceed with a new trial, said Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for the prosecutors' office.

"We do not believe it's a legally viable case," said Burns. "We're unable to proceed because of the potential lack of evidence and conflicting witness statements."

Suzanne Drouet, an assistant public defender with the Innocence Project, which represented Addison, called the move a "huge victory."

"This is a beautiful case for showing how an innocent person can wind up getting convicted," said Drouet. "Every step of the process somebody didn't do their job, and the result is what people don't think can happen - a totally innocent person winds up getting convicted."

But Burns stressed that the ruling for a new trial did not represent exoneration. Rather, she said, the case pointed to poorly organized paperwork, the possibility that not all the evidence from police was transferred to prosecutors and Addison's initial inadequate legal representation. "Our office wants to be transparent," Burns said. "Obviously, this stuff was there. We have to take responsibility for it."

Drouet said Addison's case marked the first time the Innocence Project obtained a new trial for a reason other than DNA test results.

Addison's conviction rested on the testimony of Frances Morgan. At the trial, she testified that she saw Addison ride his bicycle up to the car that Jackson was in in the 2900 block of Springhill Ave. and fire several shots into a window.

No other witnesses testified at the trial.

At a post-conviction hearing this year, Morgan recanted her 1998 testimony and said she was taking drugs in the bathroom when the shooting occurred.

A Public Information Act requesting all police documents pertaining to the investigation found three additional witness statements from 1996 that contradicted Morgan. All three said the suspect fled on foot, not bike.

"We showed that the state had not turned over certain information about these eyewitnesses that would have shown that this woman who testified ... was in fact lying," said Drouet. "They should have turned those things over."

In a photo lineup from 1996 that included Addison, Ernest Green identified someone else as the shooter and testified that the suspect he saw fled on foot. Glenn Maxey had also given police a verbal description of a suspect that did not match that of Addison in 1996.

Both testified at the post-conviction hearing this year.

Burns said the prosecutor's office instituted an "open discovery policy" in 2002 that allows defense attorneys to view files to eliminate the problems that occurred in the Addison case.

Drouet said Addison was expected to be released from the Eastern Correctional Institution yesterday evening or today.

"He was so happy he could barely speak," said Drouet. "He's been fighting this case for 10 years, telling people he was innocent."

sumathi.reddy@baltsun.com

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