No shortage of chaos in case of jail killing

September 30, 2006|By GREGORY KANE

An inmate turns out to be a police informant allegedly killed by corrections officers. Corrections officers who were witnesses have sudden attacks of amnesia or sudden memories. Allegations are made of a clique of corrections officers conspiring to finger innocent men. And one alleged Brady violation.

Can you believe all these things are connected to one trial?

That's what we've learned so far, as former corrections officers Dameon C. Woods, James L. Hatcher and Nathan D. Colbert have their day in court - a day that looks as if it'll stretch easily into at least two weeks. The three worked at Central Booking and Intake Center. They are charged with fatally beating inmate Raymond K. Smoot in May 2005.

Early in the trial of Woods, Hatcher and Colbert, jurors learned that Smoot, who had previously been described as an inmate prone to giving corrections officers problems, was in fact an informant who told police about inmates who continued illegal activity behind bars. Nothing was made of the revelation, since neither defense attorneys nor prosecutors saw it as a factor in Smoot's death. What happened to Smoot appears to be the result of one incident that spiraled rapidly and tragically out of control.

FOR THE RECORD - A column by Gregory Kane in Saturday's editions and an article in Monday's editions misspelled the name of correctional officer Kandis Harlee, who testified against another officer in the stomping death of a detainee.
The Sun regrets the error.

Baltimore Circuit Judge John M. Glynn last week squashed defense attorneys' objections that prosecutors hadn't turned over some evidence to them. Prosecutors not turning over potentially exculpatory evidence is known as a "Brady violation." I asked Margaret Mead, Woods' attorney, if one had been committed in the trial.

"It's our argument that it has been," she answered.

It's an argument that didn't sway Glynn. The issue, according to Joseph Sviatko, a spokesman for the state's attorney's office, was whether the defense was entitled to the work notes of a blood expert who testified.

"Glynn ruled that the expert's final conclusions were turned over," Sviatko said. "He also ruled that the information was there for the defense attorneys if they wanted it."

So two things that had the potential of being very controversial - Smoot being an informant and an alleged Brady violation - turned out to be things considerably less than tempests in the proverbial teapot. Not so with the testimony of some former Central Booking corrections officers who were fired in the aftermath of Smoot's death.

Robert Hudley, a former corrections lieutenant, testified Wednesday. He said he lied in his original statement of May 15, 2005 - the day after Smoot was beaten - when the commissioner of corrections and the warden of Central Booking interviewed him and seven other corrections officers, at least five of whom have been fired. Woods was one of the officers interviewed.

In the original interview, Hudley couldn't remember which officers beat Smoot. Later, he fingered Woods and Hatcher. He repeated the accusation in court this week. There is one thing in Hudley's original interview to keep in mind. The night Smoot was beaten, things were "chaotic."

Kene Jones, another former Central Booking corrections officer who was fired as a result of Smoot's death, stuck to her original story in court: She couldn't identify any corrections officers beating Smoot then, and she can't identify them now.

Oh, and things were "chaotic."

Kandis Hurlee got her turn on the hot seat yesterday. Hurlee was an eight-year veteran when she was fired. Mead spent much of the afternoon grilling Hurlee about what she remembered from her statement and what she didn't.

"I don't remember saying some of this," Hurlee said as she read a copy of her May 15, 2005, interview. "The way this conversation is worded, that's not how I remember it. The word `detainee' - that's not even a word I would use."

But you can guess which word Hurlee did use in her interview, can't you?

Chaotic.

It sounds like the "lithe and fierce, like a tiger" syndrome all over again. Anyone remember the 1969 film Z? The plot is about the assassination of a prominent political figure in which several high-ranking police officials are complicit. The assassination is done in public, and all involved describe the attacker making his getaway by leaping, "lithe and fierce, like a tiger," on to a truck.

No wonder defense attorneys are alleging that some members of a clique of Central Booking corrections officers got together at a party to finger their clients as Smoot's assailants. Sviatko said that the witnesses - all testifying for the state - even alluded to a "clique" and seemed to have, like Hurlee, memory problems.

"They `cannot recall,'" Sviatko said. "They talked about `the clique.' So they weren't at the party where apparently everybody got their stories straight."

It remains to be seen what the jury will make of this testimony. But the bad news for prosecutors is that the defense hasn't even had its turn at bat yet.

When it does, things might really get chaotic.

greg.kane@baltsun.com

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