Key witness misses jewel theft trial

Ex-Baltimore officer had agreed in plea bargain to testify

June 06, 2008|By Madison Park | Madison Park,Sun Reporter

A jury asked to decide the fate of a man charged in one of the biggest jewelry store thefts in Harford County never heard from a key witness: a former Baltimore police officer.

David A. Williamson, who resigned from the department after admitting that he took the stolen jewelry after pulling over one of the accused thieves in a traffic stop, did not face criminal charges after agreeing to testify against the suspects. But when the case came up for trial this week, Williamson was not there.

A mistrial was declared yesterday when the jury could not reach a verdict.

Harford County prosecutors said they had expected Williamson to testify in court, as required under a 2006 agreement. They said they found out as the trial began that Williamson said he would be traveling to attend a family member's funeral.

Harford prosecutors were unable to say yesterday what consequences Williamson might face for not showing up for the trial.

"We will look into this and take a look at the reason for his inability to appear," said Harford County State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly.

Williamson had been expected to cooperate in the trial of Brian O'Neal Hodge. Hodge, 41, was facing armed robbery, theft, false imprisonment and assault charges in the November 2005 theft of $1.8 million worth of jewelry, including a treasured chalice, from a Bel Air jewelry store.

Harford Assistant State's Attorney Mark W. Nelson said he unsuccessfully sought a bench warrant for Williamson to be apprehended and brought to the trial. Williamson, who now lives in North Carolina, told prosecutors he would be traveling to Texas this week, Nelson said. During closing arguments, Nelson reminded jurors that the jewelry store owner had picked Hodge's photo from among six presented as suspects. But John W. Janowich, a lawyer for Hodge, said, "Despite the police investigation of this case, there is no physical evidence linking Hodge to this crime."

'Solid impasse'

The jury began deliberating Wednesday afternoon. The jury sent a message to the judge shortly before noon yesterday that they were at "a solid impasse" and that "no further deliberation will be beneficial." Circuit Court Judge Thomas E. Marshall declared a mistrial.

During Hodge's two-day trial, Nelson never mentioned Williamson, but said afterwards, "His presence might have helped."

Cassilly said prosecutors would be "back in touch with Williamson and decide where to go from there."

He also said, "We're not clear what was not sufficient about the case. We will have to evaluate the case, the strength of the case and what to do with it at this point and time."

In the November 2005 robbery, two suspects held the owner of J&M Jewelers and a FedEx deliveryman at gunpoint at the Bel Air store, tied them with black plastic flex cuffs, forced them into the back of the store and then stole the goods, according to court documents.

In 2005, Williamson, through an attorney, told investigators he took some jewelry during a traffic stop in which he arrested Hodge on a misdemeanor gun charge three days after J&M Jewelers was robbed. A police charging document stated that Williamson and two other officers arrested Hodge and seized a loaded 9 mm handgun and $3,200, but there was no mention of the jewelry.

Suspicious purchase

A few days later, a Dundalk pawn shop owner told police he had purchased $1,550 worth of diamonds which resembled those stolen from J&M Jewelers, from the officer's wife.

Twelve days after the Bel Air jewelry store was robbed, three suspects held up a Baltimore County store, Bromwell Jewelers. The owner, Michael Bromwell, and another employee were tied up and put into a back room as the suspects ran off with about $800,000 worth of merchandise.

Williamson resigned from the Police Department in early 2006 and agreed to testify against Hodge and another suspect, Corey Reuben Cooper, prosecutors said then.

State's goal

"Our goal in negotiating this agreement with Williamson is that we do nothing to jeopardize the successful prosecution of Hodge and his co-defendant in Baltimore County and Harford County," then-Baltimore County Deputy State's Attorney Stephen Bailey said at the time.

"At the same time, we're able to ensure that he will never be a police officer again. We received a written admission of his wrongdoing."

Hodge is serving a 25-year sentence for armed robbery and Corey Reuben Cooper is serving a 25-year sentence after pleading guilty to handgun use and armed robbery of the Bromwell Jewelers, in Baltimore County. Cooper was sentenced to 10 years after pleading guilty to theft in the Harford County case.

Bromwell, the jewelry store owner, said he had vociferously opposed any kind of deal with Williamson.

"Ninety-nine percent, we would not have been robbed that Saturday if the cop was doing his job," he said yesterday.

After hearing about Williamson's failure to testify, Bromwell said, "If he wants to play games, I hope they put it to him."

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