Missteps said to have led to unraveling of court case

Arundel's Del. Gilleland acquitted of drunken-driving charges

April 18, 2006|By PHILLIP MCGOWAN, ANNIE LINSKEY AND NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON | PHILLIP MCGOWAN, ANNIE LINSKEY AND NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON,SUN REPORTERS

Responding to an early-morning 911 call, two Anne Arundel County police officers reported that they found a man wandering into traffic without one shoe.

The man, looking disheveled and smelling of alcohol, told police that he had crashed his 1999 Mercedes SLK and had gone looking for help, authorities said. Handed over to a Maryland state trooper, the man acknowledged that he had drunk six beers that night, according to a police report, and a Breathalyzer test measured his blood-alcohol level at 0.17 percent, more than twice the legal limit.

But when the man, Del. Terry R. Gilleland Jr., appeared in court April 5 to face five charges stemming from the July 13, 2005, crash in Glen Burnie, including drunken driving, he was found not guilty.

A key factor: Prosecutors had been unable to find the officers who first encountered the Anne Arundel County Republican after the accident.

"It's always disappointing when these cases are dismissed on a technicality," said Jan Withers, the Maryland victim advocate for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD. "It's very disappointing that people aren't held accountable."

Defense attorneys and prosecutors say that unwitnessed crashes involving allegedly intoxicated drivers are sometimes hard to win - even in cases that appear to be clear-cut.

But the attorneys said a series of missteps led to the unraveling of the case against Gilleland, 29. They include: the state trooper not understanding that Gilleland had left the scene of the crash and had been brought back; the trooper failing to take down the county officers' names or badge numbers; and prosecutors going forward with the case without the officers to explain why Gilleland had been detained.

Establishing the sequence of events was paramount, attorneys said, because prosecutors had to prove that Gilleland was intoxicated and was driving when the car crashed.

"No unwitnessed accident is a slam-dunk," said Clarke F. Ahlers, a Columbia defense lawyer. "First, who is the driver? Second, is the behavior of the person caused by drinking or by the injuries he has incurred?

"They [the prosecutors] prepared it like it was a slam-dunk and lost."

In the aftermath of the case, State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, is reviewing policy to ensure the names of all relevant officers are included in reports for future investigations involving more than one jurisdiction.

Gilleland, a former chairman of the Anne Arundel County Republican Central Committee who was chosen by local Republicans and then affirmed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to fill a House vacancy in May 2003, declined to comment on most aspects of the state police report.

"I was found not guilty, and that's the court's decision and I'm going to stand by the court," said Gilleland, who is seeking election to his seat this year. "I'm pleased with the decision, and the facts of the case came out in my favor."

MADD's Withers said she was disappointed that Gilleland did not "acknowledge the severity" of the incident, especially given that he is an elected official.

Gilleland said he was headed to his Glen Burnie home at the time of the accident, sometime before 3:30 a.m., and that he does not remember where he was coming from.

According to the report, Gilleland said he lost control of the sports coupe after leaving northbound Interstate 97 onto eastbound Route 100.

The car traveled onto the grassy median for 200 feet, spun halfway around, re-entered the roadway and traveled backward for another 250 feet into the woods before smashing into trees and coming to a stop in a dirt pile, the report said. The car was totaled.

The 5-foot-8-inch, 150-pound Gilleland acknowledged to the on-site officer, Tfc. Edwin Bowers, that he had drunk at least six 12-ounce bottles of Michelob Ultra beer before the crash, according to the report. Gilleland had difficulty speaking, "was drooling and his eyes were blood red/watery," the report said. He failed several field sobriety tests, and more than once, Bowers noted, he helped prevent Gilleland from falling. Gilleland agreed to take a Breathalyzer test and was placed under arrest a short time later.

Bowers, according to the report, arrested Gilleland sometime after 4:30 a.m. The state police report filed at the time implies that Gilleland had not left the scene of the crash. But he had.

Gilleland told The Sun last week that he went looking for help. He had walked more than a mile east when, at 3:25 a.m., a pair of county police officers - Gregory A. Estrada and Daniel Scott DeLorenzo - noticed Gilleland "walking into traffic" on Hospital Drive with his right shoe missing, according to computer-assisted dispatch notes released by the county Police Department.

Gilleland had passed Baltimore Washington Medical Center. He was a half-mile from home.

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