Baltimore prosecutors drop murder case in slaying

Elderly man had been beaten with own cane

witnesses fled, other evidence inconclusive

May 27, 2010|By Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun

He was an elderly Peruvian immigrant beaten to death with his own cane while on a leisurely stroll along Reisterstown Road.

Baltimore police had the bloodied cane and a witness who said he saw that attack last May. Detectives quickly arrested Hector Jose Posada and charged the 35-year-old with murder.

On Thursday, Assistant State's Attorney Charles Blomquist had to stand before a city judge and explain how the case fell apart, and why prosecutors had to drop the charge and give up virtually any chance of bringing a killer to justice.

One witness was deported. Two others, including the man who claimed to have seen the beating, have disappeared. Prosecutors took DNA evidence from the cane but could not match it to Posada. And after persuading a judge to postpone the trial on three occasions to give police and prosecutors time to find the unwilling witnesses, the clock had run out.

"It is with reluctance and a great deal of frustration that the state is going to enter a nolle prosse," Blomquist said in court, using a Latin phrase that erased the murder charge and left unsolved the slaying of Lucio Solorzano, the 84-year-old patriarch of a large family who ran a successful landscaping company.

Blomquist described efforts to close this case as "extraordinary." He persuaded U.S. immigration officials to allow his witness, who was in the U.S. illegally, to remain in the country without threat of deportation so that he could testify. When that witness disappeared, prosecutors sent social workers into the Latino community to find him and to persuade him to step forward.

Authorities obtained material arrest warrants for all three witnesses and enlisted the help of Baltimore County police to expand the search; two officers from that department were in court Thursday to testify if needed. Acting on a tip, homicide detectives fanned out in Jacksonville, Fla. They tested and retested genetic material from the crime scene and the cane.

Blomquist sounded like a broken record as he addressed Circuit Judge John N. Prevas, repeating after explaining each attempt to nail down a single thread of evidence.

"That attempt failed," the prosecutor said.

"And that attempt failed," the prosecutor added a few minutes later.

"That attempt also failed, he repeated..

After the hearing, Blomquist said, "We are all trying to get justice and obviously, dropping a case is not justice."

Solorzano was born in Peru in 1925 and moved to the U.S. when he was a young man. He became a citizen, raised a family and built a successful business that mowed the manicured lawns of some of the Baltimore area's wealthiest and best-connected citizens. One of his longtime clients was David Nevins, a member of the governor-appointed University of Maryland Board of Regents and who lives in Green Spring Valley.

After the elderly man was slain, Nevins said Solorzano "is what America is all about."

Solorzano was killed on a Sunday evening during one of his regular strolls near his home in Pikesville. He was in Northwest Baltimore along Reisterstown Road, using his newly obtained cane, sneaking a drink from a flask he kept in his pocket. It was a chance for him to strike up conversations with other Hispanic men.

Police said there was some sort of dispute between Solorzano and Posada that ended with the elderly man lying dead on his back behind a Texaco gas station steps from the county line, $50 still in his pocket, his cane in the grass beside him. Police said Solorzano had tried to shield himself with a blanket but was struck in the head as many as 15 times.

A more refined version of the crime emerged Thursday from statements made in and out of court, and confirmed by both the defense attorney and prosecutor. Solorzano, Posada and the missing witness had known each other, mostly through a loosely knit group that gathered for the daily walks and talks. The witness had even briefly lived with the victim's son.

The day of the killing, authorities said Solorzano called Posada's mother a whore in Spanish, prompting the attack.

But Posada's public defender, Quincy Coleman, insisted in an interview that police had arrested the wrong man. The missing witness "is the real killer" and "that's why he fled," Coleman said. The defense attorney questioned why the witness didn't immediately report the killing to police and said he had wounds on his hands that detectives overlooked during their interview.

Blomquist said that that theory is false but wouldn't provide details.

Prosecutors can seek a new indictment if they obtain more evidence or the key witness surfaces. But that looks unlikely, especially because Posada, while free of a murder charge, is hardly a free man. He's in the U.S. illegally, authorities said, and he is being turned over to federal authorities to be deported to his home country of Nicaragua.

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