Judge disallows statements

Howard police overlooked suspect's Miranda rights, she rules

maryland

August 04, 2006|By MELISSA HARRIS AND JORGE VALENCIA | MELISSA HARRIS AND JORGE VALENCIA,SUN REPORTERS

A Howard County judge threw out yesterday several statements made to police by an 18-year-old accused of firing a bullet that hit a 4-year-old boy in the head as the toddler played in his bedroom in Columbia.

During a two-day hearing, defense attorney Joe Murtha argued that two Howard County detectives improperly interrogated Tion Jamaar Bell of Flowerstock Row in Columbia and illegally seized DNA and his clothing after arresting him on an unrelated warrant.

Circuit Judge Lenore R. Gelfman deemed some of Bell's statements to police on the night of the Jan. 20 shooting inadmissible because police did not read Bell his Miranda rights. Gelfman allowed prosecutors to use the DNA sample and clothing, which was soiled with gunshot residue, at Bell's trial, which is scheduled for this month.

Gelfman's ruling weakens prosecutors' case because the inadmissible statements concerned Bell's ownership of a firearm and his use of it at a firing range during the two weeks before the shooting. The clothing will be critical to prosecutors' attempts to get a conviction for attempted first-degree murder, the most serious of nine charges against Bell.

"We're just glad we get to keep the clothes," said Colleen McGuinn, an assistant state's attorney.

Murtha is defending Bell pro bono after being assigned the case by the public defender's office. Murtha successfully defended Linda R. Tripp against charges that she illegally recorded conversations with White House intern Monica Lewinsky in the sex scandal that resulted in President Bill Clinton's impeachment.

The victim in the shooting, Fahad Islam, lives with a large, tight-knit family of immigrants from Bangladesh in a condominium on Airybrink Lane, across busy Tamar Drive from the Long Reach Village Center. The circumstances of the case - detectives alleged this week that Bell was aiming at someone else - stunned nearby residents.

Wayne Livesay, police chief at the time of the shooting, responded with a crackdown in the area and requests for the public's help in identifying a perpetrator, whom Livesay characterized at a community meeting as "a hoodlum" with a gun.

Police came across Bell that evening by chance. Before the shooting, a fight had broken out at the nearby Exxon station at the village center. As detectives reviewed the gas station's surveillance tape, Bell walked in to buy something, and the clerk pointed him out to detectives as being on the video.

Police asked Bell to sit down for voluntary questioning at the department's substation in the village center.

Gelfman ruled yesterday that police improperly continued to question Bell after asking to check his hands for gunshot residue, a test that was negative. At that point, Gelfman said, police should have read Bell his Miranda rights aloud, as is required in the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Miranda v. Arizona.

"The officers should have, at that point, said, `This is important information we have to give you,'" Gelfman said.

Instead, detectives later handed Bell a paper to sign saying that he had been advised of his Miranda rights. Bell refused to sign because his former attorney had told him never to sign anything.

A Howard County grand jury also has indicted Bell on charges of second-degree rape and theft in an unrelated November incident.melissa.harris@baltsun.com and jorge.valencia@baltsun.com

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