Officers portrayed as predators, scapegoats

Jury deliberations begin for King, Murray after attorneys make closing arguments

April 05, 2006|By MATTHEW DOLAN | MATTHEW DOLAN,SUN REPORTER

Federal prosecutors, addressing the jury for the final time yesterday in the trial of two Baltimore police officers charged with shaking down drug dealers, called the detectives "animals" for preying on victims in a "jungle" of West Baltimore - a characterization that drew an impassioned rebuke from the officers' attorneys.

"This is a case about two bullies. Bullies with badges and bullies with guns," Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Peters said, standing at a lectern in front of the jury box. "They reveled in it. They enjoyed it as bullies do."

But Peters' description of detectives William A. King and Antonio L. Murray as "urban predators" and "animals" who terrorized "the slow, the weak" and "the lame" in a "jungle" of Baltimore's drug culture prompted an angry response from defense attorneys.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in the Maryland section Wednesday mischaracterized how a federal prosecutor referred to two Baltimore police officers being tried on charges they dealt drugs on the city's Westside. The prosecutor described some of the people allegedly victimized by the officers as "animals" and the officers as "predators out in the jungle." The Sun regrets the error.

"How do you describe him as an animal and a bully?" King's attorney, Edward Smith Jr., asked about his client, later adding, "That's mighty dicey stuff, folks."

The barbs traded during closing arguments highlighted two contrasting views of how King and Murray did their jobs as narcotics detectives who worked most recently in and around the city's west side public housing communities.

Relying on testimony from cooperating witnesses and hours of secretly recorded conversations from the FBI, prosecutors charged King and Murray last year with conspiring to rob and extort cocaine, heroin and marijuana - as well as drug-related proceeds - from suspects they pursued on city streets in late 2004 and early 2005.

The FBI arrested King and Murray in May.

To prosecutors, the officers were no better than the greedy drug dealers they were supposed to be arresting. They robbed addled addicts of their heroin, cocaine and marijuana; passed the seized contraband to their informants to sell; and split the profits from the drug sales, according to federal investigators.

"There is no way to sugarcoat this. They mugged them," Peters said yesterday of the so-called "bottom-feeders" who were allegedly held up by King and Murray. "They would strip them of what little dignity they had out there."

The prosecutor added: "The actions of King and Murray are an insult to decent police officers in Baltimore City and everywhere."

But to defense attorneys, King and Murray were true-blue, resourceful officers who made do with limited resources. The accused detectives argued that they manipulated their drug-addicted sources into thinking they were working on joint drug deals, all in an effort to collect information about some of the city's most powerful drug dealers.

"They wanted to get to the higher-ups," Smith said.

Smith and Murray's attorney, Russell A. Neverdon Sr., described the officers as scapegoats inside a department that had been buffeted by the changing policies of several police commissioners in recent years. In the end, the pressure was on King and Murray to increase their arrest numbers for political reasons and stop their focus on some of the more lucrative and menacing drug operations, their attorneys said.

King and Murray are "berated as animals because they did their job," Smith told jurors during his closing argument. "Their training told them to do what was necessary to get these guys off the street."

Jurors deliberated for about an hour yesterday before going home for the day without reaching a verdict. They are expected to return to U.S. District Court in Baltimore this morning as the trial enters its third week.

King and Murray rejected plea offers from prosecutors and steadfastly maintain their innocence. In their testimony, each admitted violating official Police Department policy by giving informants drugs to sell on the street and accepting money from informants who thought they were sharing the illegal profits.

Police officials testified for the prosecutors that registered confidential informants are entitled to be paid nominal sums, but all transactions must be approved by a supervisor and would never involve an officer shuttling seized drugs and money directly to a drug dealer working for police.

But the officers, who joined the department in 1992, insisted that they had been taught these off-the-books procedures and that they were seen as "acceptable" when they joined the Organized Crime Division formed under then-police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark, who had previously worked for the New York City Police Department.

Just before the trial entered its jury deliberations phase, Neverdon spoke to jurors about how he believed they should think of Murray and King.

In Baltimore, Neverdon said, there is a war on drugs. King and Murray were its foot soldiers, he said.

He lambasted prosecutors for calling the officers "beastly men from the jungle." Instead, Neverdon said, King and Murray should be viewed as fallen warriors abandoned by a police department too concerned about airing its dirty laundry in public.

"Something's missing," Neverdon told jurors.

"It doesn't make sense" that King and Murray's breach of official policy should be met with a federal prosecution while other officers bent the rules to try to trade drugs seized on the street for illegal guns in years past, Neverdon said.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney A. David Copperthite, who prosecuted the case with Peters, had some of the last words of the afternoon. He told jurors in his rebuttal argument that King and Murray were anything but loyal soldiers in an effort to root out illegal drug dealers.

"They are defectors," he said. "They broke rank and they went to the other side."

matthew.dolan@baltsun.com

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