Justice calls

Our view: Retrial of murder case can't be avoided

July 30, 2008

Jewel Williams witnessed a crime of unspeakable brutality - the murder of her mother. As a 7-year-old, she was the key witness against the man charged with killing her mother, testimony that led to his conviction in 2001. But now, because of an apparent mistake by Baltimore prosecutors back then, Jewel will have to testify again about the night her mother was shot to death. Reliving that moment would be difficult for someone older than this brave 14-year-old, but justice requires her presence in court and a new trial.

The defendant, Kenneth D. Perry, had charged in the past that prosecutors withheld information from his lawyer. When a city prosecutor reviewed the files from the 1998 murder, she discovered transcribed interviews with Jewel that may not have been shared with Mr. Perry's lawyer, who has since died.

In the interviews, the young Jewel mentioned that her mother's killer was wearing a mask. Without knowing for sure if the material had been given to the defense lawyer, city prosecutors really had little choice in the matter. That evidence would be important to identifying the killer. State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy was right to agree to a new trial for Mr. Perry, who has been serving a sentence of life without parole in the murders of Jewel's mother and a girlfriend.

The state's attorney's office has had trouble with prosecutors and police failing to provide defense attorneys with material required under the law, as reported in a 2002 series in this newspaper.

Mrs. Jessamy has since adopted a policy to give defense attorneys access to entire case files, and in July, Maryland's top court adopted new rules that increased the material that must be shared between prosecution and defense. That's an overdue revision that we hope will decrease the chance of wrongful convictions and ensure justice is duly served in Maryland.

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