Lie-detector results quash man's bid to cut sentence

Judge agreed to consider polygraph, then defendant failed test

November 01, 2008|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,jennifer.mcmenamin@baltsun.com

For almost three years, Trent L. Banks has insisted to police, prosecutors and judges that he did not shoot at his girlfriend in March 2006 after she slashed his car tires over his infidelity.

Yesterday, a Baltimore County judge who granted Banks the unusual opportunity to take a lie-detector test to prove his innocence shared the results with him. They were not good.

The report, Circuit Judge Lawrence R. Daniels said in court, indicated that Banks "showed deception" in answering questions about the attempted murder of his then-girlfriend as she drove from an apartment complex in the Parkville area. "Specifically," the judge told him, "deception was indicated to 99 percent accuracy when you said you were not the one who shot at your girlfriend's car."

And with that, Daniels denied Banks' request to reduce a five-year prison sentence the judge had imposed for a probation violation after the defendant was convicted of attempted murder in the shootings involving his girlfriend and her friend.

The hearing brought to a close a complicated case with an unusual twist.

Banks, 29, was sentenced last year to 35 years in prison for shooting at the two women in the Northbrook apartment complex.

Upset at Banks' infidelity, Ebony James confronted him at 3 a.m. on March 13, 2006, and then slashed the tires of his new Nissan Maxima after he slammed the apartment door in her face, according to trial testimony.

But as she drove away, gunshots shattered the car's back windshield, flattened a tire and barely missed her friend, who happened to be leaning down to pick up a cell phone from the car floor.

Although James recanted her original statement to police, prosecutor Stephen Roscher used other evidence - including spent bullet casings and Banks' taunting statements to detectives that they couldn't charge him if they didn't find a gun - to persuade jurors to convict him.

In addition to the 35-year sentence a judge imposed for that crime, two other judges - including Daniels - each tacked on consecutive five-year prison terms for probation violations in separate car theft and armed-robbery cases, stretching his total sentence to 45 years, according to court records.

But still, Banks maintained he was not responsible for the shooting. In Daniels, he found a receptive audience.

The judge agreed this summer to let the convicted criminal take a polygraph test and to consider the results while weighing his request to reduce the five-year sentence Daniels had imposed for Banks' probation violation.

It was not the first time the judge has offered to let a defendant take a lie-detector test. Although such tests are generally not permitted in criminal cases in state court, Daniels has defended his use of them to guide him in determining a defendant's punishment, rather than his guilt or innocence.

Yesterday, he told Banks that through the polygraph, "the criminal justice system has bent over backward to ensure you were fairly treated."

"There are some people who would say a person of color doesn't receive fair treatment" in the Maryland courts, the judge told him. "In this case, I believe you have received more than fair treatment."

Banks expressed surprise at the results of the test, which he had to pay for and could take only after submitting to urinalysis to prove that he had not used any drugs in prison to skew the results.

"I don't know what happened to the test," Banks said. "I told the polygraph the truth. ... I don't know if I was nervous or what."

But Daniels told him that nerves would not explain the test results.

There are three possible outcomes in a lie-detector test, the judge explained - no deception, deception indicated or inconclusive.

"That comes up when a person is so nervous that the examiner can't appropriately interpret the test results," Daniels said of the inconclusive finding. "So in your case, that wasn't the situation."

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