Smoot case goes to the jury

2 former correctional officers' second-degree murder trial hinges on witness testimony

October 06, 2006|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,sun reporter

With no physical evidence connecting two former correctional officers to last year's beating death of a detainee at Central Booking and Intake Center, prosecutors told jurors during closing arguments yesterday to focus on the testimony given by those closest to the scene.

Prosecutors highlighted the testimony of a detainee who said he had shared a cell with Raymond K. Smoot the night Smoot was beaten to death and testified that he watched from the top bunk as Officer Dameon C. Woods stomped Smoot about 12 times after an altercation with three other officers.

But the detainee never placed the other officer charged, James L. Hatcher, in the cell, though former correctional officers who were working that night said Hatcher punched and kicked Smoot.

"This is what he saw," Assistant State's Attorney Lisa Phelps told jurors of the detainee, trying to clear up inconsistent statements that pervaded the three-week trial. "How come he didn't see Hatcher? He just wanted to get out of there. He thought it could happen to him. He told you what he saw."

Woods and Hatcher are on trial facing second-degree murder charges. A third officer, Nathan D. Colbert, had his second-degree murder charge dismissed by the judge Thursday. Jurors are to begin deliberating today.

Defense lawyers argued that the prosecution witnesses conspired to frame their clients in a meeting a day after Smoot's death. The lawyers also pointed to the lack of blood or DNA evidence linking the accused officers to the crime. Blood was found on the boots of one of the officers who assisted Smoot after the attack and on the boots of a lieutenant and another officer who was struck in the face by Smoot, but none of them was charged in the case.

Prosecutors called five current or former correctional officers who said they saw Woods stomp Smoot. One of those officers did not place Hatcher in the cell. Another officer, Kene Jones, said she could no longer remember who did what, contradicting her written report.

"Among those correctional officers, there are two codes, official and unofficial - the code of silence," Phelps said. "With the exception of one, they chose to forgo the official code. And they admitted it."

Hatcher's lawyer, Andrew I. Alperstein, called the prosecution's witnesses a cast of characters who framed the defendants.

"My grandfather used to tell me, `Never believe a liar,'" Alperstein said. "If somebody lies to you once, you don't believe them."

Margaret Mead, Woods' attorney, said there is a blood connection that identifies those who she said are really responsible for Smoot's death, including tissue found on the lieutenant's boot. "The human tissue, you cannot ignore," Mead said.

Mead acknowledged becoming a conspiracy theorist during the trial. Defense attorneys said the gathering attended the night after the attack by Jones and four other officers who testified in the case set the framework for Woods and Hatcher to take the fall, in part because one of those at the meeting had seen a report written by the officer Smoot had hit.

The defense attorneys said Woods, on whom much of the evidence has centered, was picked as a suspect because he is bigger than most of the other officers and yelled, "This is what happens when you mess with COs" as Smoot lay bleeding to death.

"The physical evidence points to the state's star witnesses," Mead said, referring to the lieutenant.

brent.jones@baltsun.com

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