Unusual claim is made at trial

Suspect in robbery attempt says delegate wanted to pay him off


The trial of a Havre de Grace man charged with the attempted armed robbery and carjacking of a state delegate in 2004 began yesterday in Harford County Circuit Court with an unusual claim by the defense.

Prosecutors said state Del. Mary-Dulany James, a Democrat who represents Harford and Cecil counties, and her husband had stopped to withdraw money from an automated teller machine on their way home from a Christmas party Dec. 17 when a man approached with a handgun and attempted to steal their car.

A defense attorney for Augustine Fortune told jurors in opening statements that James and her husband had been parked near the bank in a known "make-out spot" in Havre de Grace and offered to pay Fortune to keep quiet about seeing them.

When Fortune, 55, was arrested outside a laundromat shortly after the incident, he had no weapon, which the defense said will be supported by photos from the Harford Bank ATM in the 900 block of Revolution St.

Fortune has spent the past 17 months in jail awaiting trial.

H. Scott Lewis, a deputy state's attorney for Harford County, said Fortune approached James and her husband, Brian Feeney, as Feeney retrieved money from the ATM.

"He said, `I want your money, I want your car,'" Lewis said. "At the same time, Ms. James is seeing what looks like the barrel of a gun sticking out."

Lewis said Fortune reached into the car, but Feeney drove off. After an arrest was made, James and Feeney identified Fortune as the assailant.

Defense attorney David P. Henninger said Fortune overheard James saying, "I don't need this," and that James and Feeney offered to go to the ATM and pay Fortune $100. But they drove off when Fortune asked for $500, Henninger said.

Fortune has been charged numerous times with theft and burglary in Baltimore and Baltimore County since 1996, but court records show that prosecutors pursued only a charge of theft of more than $300 that led to a 1998 conviction.

According to a police report on the December 2004 incident, Fortune was suspected in a separate incident the same night. A Havre de Grace police officer reportedly observed Fortune recover a laundry basket from behind a tree that contained a digital video disc player and DVDs - items later reported stolen, according to the report.

The officer went to Fortune's apartment to question him but was told he was not home, the report said. But as the officer left, he was flagged down by James and Feeney, who said they had been robbed by a man matching Fortune's description.

When questioned by police, Fortune said he "only asked the guy if he could `hold a couple of dollars,'" according to the report.

Charges related to the burglary of the DVD player and DVDs were dropped.

James is expected to testify and could take the stand today. The trial is expected to last three days.


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