Lawyers offer new evidence in 2002 fatal carjacking case

More witnesses say defendant was near Annapolis crime scene

September 07, 2006|By Matthew Dolan | Matthew Dolan,Sun reporter

Federal prosecutors revealed yesterday in court that they have collected new evidence against the Annapolis man whose lawyer persuaded the nation's highest court to toss out a confession implicating him in a 2002 fatal carjacking in the heart of the state's capital.

Leeander Jerome Blake was indicted last week by a federal grand jury in Baltimore on murder charges. The federal prosecution arrived some nine months after the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a lower court finding that Blake's statement to police was improperly obtained.

A state judge then had to dismiss the charges against Blake. She cited state law that said that if a statement to police was illegally acquired, a judge must automatically dissolve the entire case. The legislature has since changed the law.

Yesterday, the federal prosecutor and Blake's longtime defense attorney argued whether the 21-year-old represented a substantial danger to the community while he waits to be tried in U.S. District Court.

Magistrate Judge Susan K. Gauvey concluded yesterday that Blake should be kept in jail until his trial because of the seriousness of the new charges and the weight of the evidence against him.

"The barbarity of the charge weighs heavily on the court," Gauvey said from the bench, calling the evidence in the case "chilling" and "considerable."

Assistant U.S. Attorney John F. Purcell Jr. also told the judge that federal investigators held evidence against Blake that would ensure a conviction whether or not his statement to police is admissible in the case.

"Even prior to the present case and without his post-arrest statement to the detectives, the remaining evidence against Blake was substantial," Purcell wrote in court papers to the judge.

Straughan Lee Griffin, 51, died Sept. 19, 2002, in front of his home in Annapolis' Historic District. The crime, which also included the theft of Griffin's Jeep, was engineered and carried out by Blake and his neighbor, Terrence Tolbert, according to prosecutors. Convicted last year in state court of murder, Tolbert, now 23, is serving a prison term of life without parole plus 30 years.

According to prosecutors, the new evidence includes additional accounts from witnesses that place Blake near the scene of the crime, including a shopkeeper and neighbor who say they believed that Blake intended to rob them. Other supporting evidence includes statements Blake allegedly made to his mother, brother and former girlfriend about what transpired later on the day that Griffin was shot at point-blank range to his head.

Purcell argued that even if Blake's statement to police is barred from federal court, other evidence will show that it was Blake who pointed out Griffin to Tolbert. And it was Blake, according to Purcell, who indicated that Griffin would be a good person to rob.

Prosecutors do not have a theory on which man was the shooter, Purcell said.

According to the court papers, Blake's girlfriend -- or someone who knew her -- told authorities she received a call from Blake within hours of Griffin's death.

"Records for Tolbert's cell phone confirm that this phone was used about one-half hour after the murder to call a girlfriend of Blake. That witness recalls that Blake called her and told her that he was with `Terry,' who the witness knew to be `the one-armed Terry,'" Purcell wrote in court papers. Tolbert has one arm.

Blake, who was 17 at the time of the crime, had been on three years' probation for assaulting his former girlfriend before his arrest last week.

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