Murder trial falters after killing of potential witness

April 06, 2006|By JULIE BYKOWICZ | JULIE BYKOWICZ,SUN REPORTER

Theodore Ross was shot to death at a party thrown in honor of another Baltimore murder victim. But some partygoers told police that the shooters got the wrong man. They said Victor Richards might have been the intended target that night.

Then, in the middle of the trial for Ross' homicide, which ended yesterday, Richards was shot to death.

It's unclear whether the death of Richards, whose name was mentioned throughout the trial and who was listed as a potential witness, was linked to the 2005 killing of Ross.

But prosecutors said yesterday that Richards' absence proved to be a stumbling block in their attempt to convict Kevin Garnett, 23, and brothers Tavon Williams, 21, and Stephen Williams, 23, of Ross' homicide. The three were acquitted of all charges this week. And police said they have no suspects in the killing of Richards.

"The one big question in the jurors' minds was where was Victor Richards," said Margaret T. Burns, spokeswoman for the Baltimore state's attorney's office. "We were in a difficult position because we could not bring up the fact that he was murdered, and we knew we couldn't produce him for the jury."

But the defense attorney for Tavon Williams said there was a much simpler reason the three men were acquitted: "It was a bad case."

"I feel very good because this man was innocent," said attorney Donald Daneman about his client, who had been accused of firing the shot that killed Ross.

The case against Garnett, who some witnesses said wasn't near the shooting scene, never reached the jury. Circuit Judge Allen L. Schwait granted defense attorney David R. Soloman's motion for acquittal.

Daneman said Schwait's ruling about Garnett might have had an effect on jurors, whom he said he believed were already skeptical of the state's key witness - the party hostess who acknowledged that she had been drinking alcohol for about 12 hours the day Ross was killed.

Richards, Ross and the three men accused of killing Ross were attending an "RIP party" Aug. 6. for Terry Street, 23, who had been shot to death Jan. 29, 2005.

Four men arrived at the party just before 3 a.m., according to court documents. One of the men got a plate of food and went back outside the home on the 3800 block of Cedarhurst Road in Northeast Baltimore. A fight broke out over the food, and one man pulled out a handgun.

As shots were fired outside, Ross ran to the front door and was shot in the face, the documents say.

Daneman said it was Richards who became involved in the fight over food. And witnesses testified during the trial that Ross was not involved and that the shots were most likely intended for Richards.

As witnesses were testifying in last week's trial, Richards, 23, was shot to death. He was hit eight times as he stood on the 1300 block of N. Montford Ave. at about 3 p.m. Thursday.

Assistant State's Attorney Diana Smith, who prosecuted the case, was unsure whether she would have called Richards as a witness, Burns said, but his death took away that option.

Burns said Richards had told police he was in a bathtub when Ross was killed and that he hadn't seen anything, so he likely would not have been a crucial witness. But because other witnesses mentioned him so much during the trial, there were "many questions about Victor Richards," she said.

julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

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