Three ejected from Harford courthouse

Men told to leave during trial in cabdriver's killing

officials fear witness intimidation

March 30, 2006|By JUSTIN FENTON | JUSTIN FENTON,SUN REPORTER

As Darrell Levon Miller testified Tuesday about his involvement in a drug-running gang and the killing of a 37-year-old father of nine, a young man slipped into the courtroom and sat in the front row. His long black T-shirt was inscribed with the words, "Get Down or Lay Down," and depicted images of guns.

Two other men lingered outside, where Miller's father heard one say, "We should've popped Darrell when we had the chance." When Judge Thomas E. Marshall learned of the situation, he quickly called a recess and had security guards tell the men to leave the building.

The scene played out not in a courtroom in Baltimore, where brazen acts of witness intimidation have occurred repeatedly in recent years, but in the small suburban Circuit Courthouse in Harford County. Reputed gang recruit Wayne Lavon Bond, 18, is on trial in the killing of an Edgewood cabdriver in 2004, and prosecutors say the killing was part of an initiation.

Gang activity in Harford attracted little attention until the killing, and witness intimidation was largely unheard of. State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly said the smattering of incidents in the past were mostly domestic.

"We've had hostile family members in court during trials, attacking deputies after a jury came in with the verdict. ... It's difficult," Cassilly said.

In Baltimore, prosecutors say witness intimidation has reached an epidemic level, with threats ranging from "Stop Snitching" T-shirts in the courtroom to shootings of key witnesses in murder and drug trials. In May, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. signed a bill that made witness intimidation a felony that carries a possible 20-year prison sentence. Until October, it was a misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of five years. Yesterday, the first conviction under the new law took place in Baltimore.

Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for Baltimore City State's Attorney Patricia A. Jessamy, said many suburban jurisdictions supported the bill last year, as well as an unsuccessful effort this year to strengthen it. Howard County State's Attorney Timothy J. McCrone testified in January before a Senate committee that witness intimidation was "no longer a Baltimore City or inside-the-Beltway issue."

Miller, 21, pleaded guilty in the fall to first-degree murder for his involvement in Derald Howard Guess' killing. Wearing an orange jumpsuit -- covered with gang insignias -- he testified about the Bloods' hierarchy and rules.

His brother, Gabriel, also was scheduled to testify Tuesday and was waiting in the hallway when the three men approached.

"It had graphic and potentially threatening pictures and language on it, and we don't want anyone harassing or intimidating any witness, the jury or the attorneys," Robert B. Thomas, a spokesman for the Harford County Sheriff's Office, said of the T-shirt worn by one of the men.

Miller's father, Arthur Huff, said one of them made threatening comments, and he observed others making calls on their cell phones so others could listen to the testimony.

Gabriel Miller, who testified yesterday, said he has been threatened. After learning of the crime, he was the "concerned citizen" named in court documents who informed police that his brother and Bond had committed the crime. He agreed to wear a wire and played video games with his brother as police raided an Edgewood townhouse.

He left the courthouse with a jacket pulled over his head. But when a defense attorney challenged his statements, he said, "I'm here to do something, that's supposed to be done right."

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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