Evidence in killing of guard vanished

Knife linked to case reappeared after beating of inmate

Sun Exclusive

December 13, 2007|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,Sun reporter

The fatal stabbing of correctional officer David W. McGuinn at the Maryland House of Correction on July 25, 2006, marked what would turn out to be one of the last chapters in the bloody history of the antiquated Jessup prison.

But nearly 18 months after the death of McGuinn -- and almost a year after the prison was closed -- questions have emerged about the mishandling of potentially key evidence and the impact it could have on the prosecution of the two inmates accused in his killing.

Specifically, a homemade knife that investigators believe might have been used in the killing mysteriously disappeared within the prison, only to reappear under suspicious circumstances two days later.

The Sun obtained internal state police and corrections department reports that provide for the first time a glimpse into the chaotic scene at the House of Correction in the hours after McGuinn's death, as well as insight into the culture of violence that made the prison infamous.

The reports describe crime scene technicians working in a darkened, blood-soaked corridor while trying to stay out of reach of inmates; of inmates "flushing their toilets like mad" to dispose of hidden contraband; and of correctional staff using flashlights to navigate unlit utility tunnels.

The incident involving the missing knife -- an 8 1/2 -inch, flat piece of metal with a sharpened point, distinctive marks and a "reddish stain" -- started with a simple accident. A crime scene investigator accidentally kicked the "shank" off a narrow catwalk in a utility area with plumbing lines behind the cells.

The knife tumbled down four floors into the darkness of a locked utility tunnel. It was located 20 minutes later and photographed, then left in what was believed to be a secure area. But it was gone when crime scene investigators returned 11 hours later to retrieve it, according to a report by state police homicide Sgt. Michael Grant, the investigator who knocked it from the tier.

The knife resurfaced two days later, tagged as having been taken from an inmate who was severely beaten by five guards the afternoon after McGuinn was killed.

A spokeswoman for the Anne Arundel County state's attorney's office declined to comment when asked about the handling of the knife and its significance.

"This is a homicide case, and we're not going to discuss evidentiary matters prior to motions hearings and ultimately the trial," said Kristen Riggin, the agency's spokeswoman.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in the case against the two inmates charged with killing McGuinn. Both are serving life sentences for murder in unrelated cases. No trial date has been set, but it is expected to be at least a year away.

Defense lawyers for those inmates also declined to comment, but one recently filed court papers seeking more information about the handling of the knife and the five officers, who are charged with assault. The state is seeking to shield that data.

A spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services declined to comment, noting the pending trial.

Authorities have said the two inmates accused of killing McGuinn were able to bypass faulty locks on their cell doors to get out and trap the officer in a narrow corridor.

They said a day after his death that McGuinn, a by-the-book officer known by the nickname "Homeland Security," had been the subject of inmate death threats and that he had been assigned to duties out of contact with prisoners until just before his death.

To be sure, dozens of hidden shanks were found during cell searches in the days after the killing, and it is not clear whether the one that fell from the catwalk -- possibly made from a piece of bed frame -- was used in the attack.

But its potential significance to the murder case was evident in a 75-page report, dated April 3, that was written by Grant.

In the report, he refers to the knife being found "in close proximity to the McGuinn murder crime scene."

"It concerns us that this weapon could possibly have been involved ... in McGuinn's murder," Grant pointedly told Division of Correction Lt. Manuel Williams, according to a transcript of an Aug. 1, 2006, interview.

Williams was the supervisor of the five officers, who are charged with second-degree assault in the beating of 25-year-old inmate Bradford Matthews on the afternoon of July 26, 2006.

At the time, the officers were employed in an adjacent Jessup prison, the Jessup Correctional Institution, and had been called to assist at the House. Each has denied any wrongdoing; none was disciplined administratively and all remain on the job. Their trials are scheduled for March.

The misdemeanor assault charges were filed in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court in July, nearly a year after McGuinn was killed, records show. Criminal charges are rarely brought against correctional officers in cases that involve alleged assaults on inmates, prison system officials say.

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