The prosecution of a man charged with killing an off-duty Baltimore police officer suffered a setback yesterday when a judge ruled that jurors could not hear evidence linking the defendant to a carjacking days before the homicide.
Brandon Grimes goes on trial today for the fatal shooting of Detective Troy Lamont Chesley Sr. During a motions hearing yesterday, Circuit Judge Timothy Doory ruled that prosecutors will not be allowed to present evidence of the carjacking for fear it would prejudice the jury. What's more, the two victims of the carjacking recanted their identification of Grimes as their attacker.
The carjacking victims who "testified here today could not convince me it's Monday," Doory said. "I don't know who they are afraid of. I don't know with whom they're angry. I do know what they said was totally and completely not believable."
The carjacking victims, Donta Robinson and Jamal Carter, testified that, more than a month after the attack, homicide detectives interrogated them as if they were suspects until they identified "the man who killed the police officer" as the man who carjacked them.
In earlier tape recordings of their statements to police, Carter and Robinson sounded sure of their identifications, but by yesterday, their testimony had been reduced to a series of contradictions.
In the taped statement, Robinson said that after seeing Grimes' picture on television he called Carter to confirm that it was the same man who attacked them. But on the witness stand, Carter denied having that conversation, and both Carter and Robinson said they couldn't identify and didn't even look at the man who attacked them. Prosecutor Kevin Wiggins had them jailed to ensure their appearance in court yesterday.
Doory once interrupted Carter's testimony to ask him: "Do you know you can get locked up for lying in court?"
Police said that about 7 p.m. on Jan. 5, 2007, Grimes, armed with a "laser-sighted, semiautomatic pistol with an oversized clip," approached Carter and Robinson in front of Carter's apartment in the 4200 block of Bonner Road. Police allege that Grimes ordered the men to the ground, emptied their pockets, told Robinson not to look at him, and struck Carter in the back of the head. Police say Grimes fled in Robinson's white Mercury Marquis, trailed by a green Dodge Caravan.
Four days after the carjacking, Chesley, 34, died in what police believe was a robbery attempt.
About 1:20 a.m. on Jan. 9, 2007, police said, Grimes approached Chesley as he fumbled for his keys on the front porch of a house in the 4500 block of Fairfax Road and then shot him with the same pistol used in the carjacking. Police said Chesley managed to return fire and wounded Grimes in the leg.
Police said the same green Caravan delivered Grimes to St. Agnes Hospital for treatment for his gunshot wound. Robinson's stolen property was found in the Caravan.
Wiggins wanted to be able to present evidence of those allegations to the jury in the murder trial, calling Carter and Robinson to the stand to prove the connections.
But Doory denied the request yesterday, saying that telling jurors about the carjacking would unfairly prejudice the panel against Grimes, 23.
The reversal of the two witnesses isn't the first complication in authorities' efforts to investigate and prosecute the crimes with which Grimes is charged.
The two victims called 911 after the carjacking, but police did not take a report or conduct an investigation. In addition, the Sig Sauer semiautomatic pistol believed to have killed Chesley had slipped through the Police Department's hands twice. Police seized it during a 2001 illegal firearms investigation, but the case fell apart, and they returned it to its owner. Five years later, the owner reported the gun stolen, but police did not follow through with an investigation.