Warrant denied, killings follow

79-year-old, teen die

city prosecutors and police trade blame

December 29, 2005|By GUS G. SENTEMENTES | GUS G. SENTEMENTES,SUN REPORTER

Baltimore detectives believed they had enough evidence to charge Gerald P. Reed with the attempted murder of another man this week. But prosecutors balked at issuing an arrest warrant, pointing to flaws in crucial witness testimony.

Hours later, despite the attention the case had drawn from authorities, police say Reed again went looking for Mathaddues Rozier, barging Tuesday evening into the Southeast Baltimore rowhome of Rozier's father, 79. Reed fatally shot the elderly man in his chair, authorities say.

The younger Rozier was upstairs when his father was killed. After the shooting, police say, Rozier ran outside, looking for revenge. Unable to find Reed, Rozier shot a 15-year-old boy about three blocks away, whom he believed was a drug associate of Reed's, police say. The youth died yesterday.

The killings - apparently fueled by the drug trade - once again have left police and prosecutors pointing fingers at each other.

The killings of the elderly man and the juvenile were two of four homicides in a brief spasm of violence early this week, one of the deadliest 24-hour periods in Baltimore this year. As of yesterday, the city murder total was 267, compared with 272 for the similar period last year.

Police say the two slayings - of Alvester Rozier and Travis Harris, 15 - might have been prevented if a prosecutor had signed an arrest warrant for Reed.

But prosecutors say police investigators didn't have enough evidence in the early stages of the investigation to justify the arrest of a suspect in the attempted murder of the younger Rozier. And, they add, even if they had signed a warrant, it probably would not have made its way through the system in time for police to make an arrest and avert the killings.

Now, police say, they expect to charge Rozier, 25, in the killing of the boy. Meanwhile, a murder warrant has been issued for Reed, who police say is now on the run. Police list Reed's last known address in the 500 block of N. Lakewood Ave., in East Baltimore.

"It's obviously very tragic and very disturbing," said Matt Jablow, a police spokesman. "It's troubling to think that had things gone the way we would've liked them to have gone, we possibly could've prevented two homicides. ... We can't allow this to happen again."

Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for the city state's attorney's office, said prosecutors were saddened by the loss of life, but she added that they followed protocol in not approving an arrest warrant for Reed.

At the time, Burns said, "The evidence and the witness statements were just not credible."

She said Douglas Ludwig, the veteran prosecutor who decided not to approve the warrant for Reed, felt "very strongly" that "there was not enough probable cause, and that the case needed further investigation."

Jablow, however, disagreed.

"We would not have asked prosecutors to sign a warrant if we didn't think we had a very strong case," he said.

Police officials say they're frustrated that prosecutors often set unrealistic standards for the quality of witnesses and evidence for pursuing shootings and killings that are typically drug-related hits.

"We have to deal with the reality of the streets, which is that our murder victims may have criminal records, our suspects may have records, and sometimes even our witnesses to homicides have criminal records," Jablow said. "But that shouldn't prevent us from going forward with good solid cases when we have them."

Prosecutors, however, often counter that police need to do a better job of giving them cases they can take to court. Shooting and homicide cases are regularly confounded by difficulties with witness statements, witness intimidation and shortcomings in evidence.

Police and the state's attorney's office have different perspectives on how an attempted murder case this week spiraled out of control into the slayings of two other people.

Jablow said Reed tried to kill Rozier on Monday in a vacant rowhouse, but Rozier turned his head just as the gun was fired. He suffered only a grazing wound to his forehead, police say.

Rozier was initially uncooperative with police, Jablow said, but eventually identified a shooter. Another witness saw Reed march Rozier at gunpoint into the vacant rowhouse in the 600 block of N. Glover St., Jablow said.

That witness - who also reported hearing a gunshot - provided police with a taped statement, Jablow said.

About 6 p.m. Tuesday, police detectives presented their case to Ludwig, who told police they did not have enough of a case to file an arrest warrant for Reed, Jablow said.

At 7:41 p.m., police were called to the 400 block of N. Kenwood St. where, in a home, they found the 79-year-old Rozier "unresponsive, sitting in a chair, slumped to the right, and bleeding from the head," according to a police report. Alvester Rozier was transported to Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 8:22 p.m., the police report says.

Police say the younger Rozier was upstairs in the house when his father was shot.

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