Three city officers accused of kidnapping to be tried together

Court appearance is Bernstein's first since taking office

April 14, 2011|By Yeganeh June Torbati, The Baltimore Sun

The three city police officers charged with kidnapping two Baltimore teens two years ago will be tried on the charges together, a judge ruled Thursday, rejecting arguments by two of the defendants' lawyers that a joint trial would be unfair to their clients.

The trial of Officers Milton G. Smith III, Tyrone S. Francis and Gregory Hellen marks the first time new city State's Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein has prosecuted a case since a stint with the U.S. attorney's office from 1987 to 1991. The former defense attorney was elected last fall after a campaign that included a pledge to occasionally try cases, unlike his predecessor.

The officers, members of the Violent Crimes Impact Section, which patrols high-crime areas, are charged with the kidnapping, assault and false imprisonment of two West Baltimore youths, Sean Quinn Woodland and Michael B. Johnson Jr., on May 4, 2009. Johnson claimed that the officers drove him in an unmarked police van to a state park in Howard County, where they left him without his shoes, socks or cellphone. Woodland was allegedly dropped off across town.

Lawyers for Francis and Hellen argued Thursday that their clients were less involved in the incidents because they mostly stayed in the van while Smith allegedly spoke with and detained Woodland.

"There are things that my client was absolutely not a part of that would make it incredibly unfair for me to have to defend that case," said Francis' attorney, Michael Belsky, who acknowledged that Francis drove the van that evening.

Bernstein countered that all three defendants were involved in some way in the alleged kidnapping and abduction, and thus ought to be tried together.

"I'm really at a loss to understand what he's talking about," Bernstein said.

Baltimore Circuit Judge Timothy J. Doory agreed, ruling that all three officers would face trial together, although he acknowledged the risk of a mistrial in a case with multiple defendants.

Motions in the case are scheduled to continue Friday, and jury selection is slated to begin next week.

Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.

jtorbati@baltsun.com

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