Murder case in judge's hands

Speedy-trial ruling expected today in 3-year-old indictment

August 10, 2006|By JULIE BYKOWICZ | JULIE BYKOWICZ,SUN REPORTER

It has been three years since Kevin Shields was shot to death in front of his 8-year-old son in Northwest Baltimore.

Today, a city judge is to decide whether so much time has passed that the man accused in the killing, Jason Beau Moody, cannot be prosecuted.

"The stakes ... are extremely high," Assistant State's Attorney Lisa Goldberg told the judge at the Baltimore Circuit Court hearing this week. "We're looking at a penalty of having a murder case dismissed."

When Shields was shot to death in July 2003, city police quickly identified his ex-wife, Stephanie Madariaga, and her boyfriend, Moody, as suspects. The couple went to the Dominican Republic, but were arrested two months later when they stepped off a plane at a New Jersey airport.

Madariaga, 27, pleaded guilty in August 2004 to being an accessory after the fact and agreed to testify against Moody, 31. His case has lingered unresolved, though he has been behind bars since his arrest.

Circuit Judge Althea M. Handy listened to arguments Tuesday on a motion that Moody's right to a speedy trial has been violated. It was an unusual hearing - one in which defense lawyers and state and federal prosecutors took the witness stand, offering different versions of why the murder trial has been delayed.

Moody's attorney, Kenneth W. Ravenell, called the delay unacceptable. Prosecutors insisted they had a good reason for it.

When Moody was indicted in 2003 for murder, he also had pending federal gun charges - unrelated to the Shields killing - that carried lengthy prison time. State and federal prosecutors said they anticipated working out a plea deal with Moody on both charges.

What they didn't anticipate was the federal case falling apart.

A federal judge ruled in November 2004 that police illegally seized the key evidence in that case, a gun in Moody's car, when they searched it. The seizure was based on an outstanding warrant, but it turns out that warrant had been invalidated three weeks earlier. The computer system just hadn't been updated.

Because of that ruling and the judge's subsequent refusal to reconsider it, federal prosecutors dismissed Moody's federal charges in December 2005.

Soon after, Moody received a trial date in his state murder case.

It was a brazen shooting, in broad daylight, in front of a child.

About noon July 12, 2003, Shields, 26, and his son pulled into the parking lot of their Cross Country apartment building, where Madariaga and Moody were waiting in a Cadillac Escalade, according to charging documents.

Shields and his ex-wife, who'd divorced in December 2002, argued heatedly, and then Moody and Shields argued, the documents state.

As Shields walked toward the driver's side of the Cadillac to confront Moody, he was shot three times, the documents state.

The 8-year-old got into the Cadillac and it drove away. The boy was dropped at Madariaga's mother's home, and the couple left the country, according to the court documents.

A Baltimore grand jury indicted them on murder charges Sept. 4, 2003, and they were arrested a few days later at Newark International Airport.

Madariaga's plea deal developed over the next few months, but city prosecutors said they waited to pursue Moody's case because they believed it could be resolved through a single plea.

Ravenell said city prosecutors were wrong to bank on a plea deal and should not have waited for the federal prosecution to end before beginning their prosecution.

In deciding whether Moody's constitutional right to a speedy trial has been violated, the judge must assess four factors: the length of the delay; the reasons for the delay; the defendant's invocation of his right to a speedy trial; and the prejudice to the defendant caused by the delay.

The Tuesday hearing revealed two versions of events - "a sort of he said, she said," the judge noted - when three of the four lawyers involved in Moody's cases took the stand.

"Everybody knew what was going on," Goldberg said at the hearing, saying the defense attorneys also sought a plea deal for Moody.

She pointed out that the defense never formally complained about the murder trial delay, through motions or letters, until the federal case dissolved.

Ivan J. Bates, who worked at Ravenell's firm until earlier this year and represented Moody on the murder charges, testified that his former client told him regularly for years, "Let's just do it. Let's go ahead and do the murder case."

Bates said he conveyed those wishes to the city prosecutor, James Wallner, who this year became a federal prosecutor.

Ravenell, who originally represented Moody on the federal charges and took over in the murder case when Bates left office, also testified. He described a scenario similar to what Bates said had happened.

Wallner testified that he remembered things differently.

He said Bates "never expressed a desire to go forward with the state case" and said he could not recall ever speaking to Ravenell about the murder charges.

The judge did not hear from Jonathan Mastrangelo, a federal prosecutor at the time who handled Moody's gun case. The U.S. attorney's office refused to let him testify.

Assistant State's Attorney Diana Smith, who took over the murder prosecution when Wallner left, testified that Mastrangelo had told her in a phone call that Moody's defense attorneys "had pushed for the murder trial" all along.

In a subsequent conversation with Mastrangelo, Smith said, he told her he had been mistaken and that the push came only at the end of the federal case.

julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

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