Witness on stand retracts story of killing

April 09, 2009|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

The only surviving eyewitness to have claimed to see Patrick Byers kill a man on a Baltimore street corner in 2006 recanted his story before a federal jury Wednesday as Byers, who is on trial in the killing of another witness, looked on.

Joseph D. Parham Jr., 37, was arrested at his grandmother's home and forced to testify, after he failed to apear Tuesday. He was granted a promise of immunity if he told the truth. Parham said Wednesday that he had lied about seeing Byers to avoid punishment in a 2006 drug arrest. But the prosecution suggested that he retracted his statements because he was scared Byers would kill him.

"The other person who identified Mr. Byers ended up dead, you know that, right?" Assistant U.S. Attorney Bryan Giblin said, referring to Carl Stanley Lackl, who was gunned down days before Byers' murder trial was to begin.

"Yes," Parham answered.

His reversal actually took root two years ago when he signed a form for Byers' attorneys renouncing the story before that case went to trial, but recent exchanges between Parham and Byers led the government to wonder if witness intimidation had occurred.

The original charges against Byers were dropped so that he could be federally prosecuted in a case in which he is accused of using a contraband cell phone to order Lackl's killing from jail. If he is convicted, he could face the death penalty.

Last month, prosecutors revealed that Parham and the 23-year-old defendant traded a dozen phone calls just weeks ago, while Byers was incarcerated. An illegal cell phone was found in his cell at the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center in Baltimore on March 16.

Records show that the phone was used in more than 3,000 calls between Byers and a correctional officer who left the facility, also known as Supermax, in December; she testified yesterday and confirmed the calls. The phone was also used to make and receive calls from Parham, who recanted his story to investigators in this case March 12, a week after he and Byers had exchanged five calls in one day. He had not recanted earlier, he said, because no one had ever asked.

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