Charges against 1 officer in jail killing dismissed

Judge notes conflicting testimony about Colbert's actions

two guards still face murder charges in inmate Smoot's death

October 05, 2006|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,sun reporter

Pointing to contradictory statements by some of the prosecution's strongest witnesses, a Baltimore Circuit Court judge dismissed yesterday a murder charge filed against one of the three former corrections officers accused in last year's fatal beating of a detainee at Central Booking and Intake Center.

Judge John M. Glynn said jurors could have trouble with testimony given by witnesses who implicated two of the officers but did not mention the third, Nathan D. Colbert. The judge said evidence against Colbert, who had been charged with second-degree murder, was "considerably weaker" than for the other defendants.

Second-degree charges against Dameon C. Woods and James L. Hatcher remain, but Glynn dropped conspiracy charges against them. Prosecutors and defense lawyers are to give closing arguments today.

Many of the prosecution's witnesses -- former correctional officers who were at the jail when prosecutors say Raymond K. Smoot was killed in his cell -- have testified to seeing Woods stomp Smoot and Hatcher punch the detainee.

But those witnesses could not account for Colbert's whereabouts.

"He has maintained his innocence from Day 1," said Robert D. Cole Jr., Colbert's attorney. "This has been a tremendous burden on him. It's overshadowed everything in his life."

Colbert hugged Hatcher as he left the courtroom with his mother and lawyer by his side. Married and a father of four, Colbert said having his name cleared "feels good." He declined to speak further because the case against his former co-defendants is pending.

In 10 days of testimony, 27 witnesses took the stand. Only two placed Colbert inside the cell on the evening Smoot was killed, May 14, 2005, and neither testified to having seen Colbert stomp, kick or punch Smoot. One said she saw Colbert make a stomping motion but could not tell if he made contact.

Defense attorneys called seven witnesses to the stand in the last two days. Three said they were on the elevator with Colbert when he arrived at the scene. Officer Norman Hawkins, who continues to work at Central Booking, said he waited with Colbert for a slow-moving elevator to come, and by the time they and about six other officers arrived, the altercation had ended.

Colbert was not one of the five officers suspended in the aftermath of the attack. Colbert worked for about a month before being put on administrative leave, and he was offered a misdemeanor assault and probation plea deal that he declined, Cole said.

"They didn't originally believe he was involved," Cole said. "There was a rush to judgment as to Mr. Colbert. Anyone who sits down and goes through the evidence will come to the same conclusion as the judge did."

Prosecutors fought to keep Colbert as part of the case but were ultimately undone by their own witnesses. Assistant State's Attorney Mark Cohen asked the judge to allow the jury to make the decision it feels is appropriate.

"You had to call them," Glynn said to Cohen of his witnesses. "You had what you had."

brent.jones@baltsun.com

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