Murder case gets gag order

Prosecutors cannot publicly discuss details on drifter accused of killing 5


A man charged with killing five mostly elderly people since 1999 was ordered held without bail yesterday while, hours later, a Baltimore Circuit Court judge issued a ruling prohibiting prosecutors from making public comments in the high-profile case.

Richard Woods, the public defender for Raymont Hopewell, said a gag order was necessary to preserve his client's right to an impartial city jury.

The case has generated intense media attention because of the age of the victims and the nature of the crimes. Hopewell is accused of killing a woman in 1999, another woman in 2002 and two women and a man this year. He also is charged with raping another woman and invading two homes. All of the victims lived on the city's west and northwest sides.

Yesterday's motion by the public defender targeted specific comments by Maj. Richard Fahlteich, commander of the Police Department's homicide unit. In an address to reporters Monday, Fahlteich said detectives "have absolutely, positively indisputable evidence that [Hopewell] is the sole suspect."

Woods wrote in his motion that the city state's attorney's office has a responsibility to prevent comments that "taint the jury pool."

But so far, the gag order applies only to the state's attorney's office. To prevent police officials from making public comments about the case, the public defender's office would have to file another motion that specifically names the department.

Woods declined to comment yesterday.

The gag order, issued by Judge John M. Glynn, came hours after Hopewell appeared in court for a bail hearing. Correctional officers escorted the suspect, wearing a bright-yellow jumpsuit and shackled in chains, into a small courtroom at the Central Booking and Intake Center, where a judge ordered him held without bail on charges involving three of the killings and the rape.

Hopewell, 34, did not say a word during the hearing, which began shortly after 11 a.m. and lasted about five minutes. His public defender at the hearing, Natalie Finegar, did not protest his no-bail status before District Judge Charlotte M. Cooksey.

Assistant State's Attorney David Chiu told the judge that Hopewell posed "a continuing and extreme risk to public safety."

Hopewell was the sole defendant ushered into the Central Booking courtroom, where suspects are usually escorted in groups of 10 or more for bail hearings.

He was the first defendant to have a bail review yesterday, and correctional officers seated him in the last row, away from reporters, who were told to sit at the front of the courtroom.

Hopewell has a history of arrests for burglary, theft, drug possession and other charges. He was found guilty on a drug-dealing charge last year and given an 18-month sentence. He walked away from a halfway house in Southwest Baltimore where he had been ordered to stay, and state corrections officials issued a warrant for his arrest.

But authorities never caught up with him again until his arrest Sept. 21, when he was charged in the death of Carlton Crawford, 82, who had been found beaten and strangled in a Northwest Baltimore apartment complex one month before.

Police said that they then linked the suspect with DNA to the slaying of Lydia R. Wingfield, 78, who was killed Aug. 30, and charged him with that killing last week. Hopewell had been held without bail for those two slayings when police filed a rape charge and three additional charges of murder this week.

The rape of a 63-year-old woman occurred Sept. 2. The other victims he is accused of killing are Constance Wills, 60, in 1999; Sarah Shannon, 88, in 2002; and Sadie L. Mack, 78, in May.

Authorities said they are continuing to investigate other cases for possible connections to Hopewell.

Hopewell's first trial date is scheduled for Feb. 24, according to the city state's attorney's office.

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