Anne Arundel prosecutors drop charges in murder-for-hire case

Arrest of witness on drug, gun violations and 'conflicting statements' problematic for state

May 31, 2011|By Andrea F. Siegel, The Baltimore Sun

Anne Arundel County prosecutors have dropped first-degree murder charges in a murder-for-hire case, acknowledging that the arrest of their key witness on drug and handgun violations — at one point, she claimed to have the murder weapon — and related problems were too much to overcome.

The witness had been arrested in February, only days before Dominic Richard Sanchez was to face trial on charges that he had a friend shoot his girlfriend's estranged husband, Lamont Gordon Jr., in 2009. The trial was postponed, as prosecutors took the weapon to be tested.

Since then, "the state has diligently been attempting to rehabilitate the case. Unfortunately, we are not able to ethically proceed given the problems created by the criminal activity of the state's witness," Assistant State's Attorney Anastasia Prigge told Judge Paul G. Goetzke on Friday afternoon, according to a recording of the court proceeding. Prosecutors did not name witness Nicole Munshower during the brief hearing, but referred to the arrest.

"Your case is only as good as your evidence. Their evidence was Nicole Munshower," John M. McKenna, the defense lawyer for Sanchez, said Tuesday. "She had lied so many times to so many people. In one statement, she bragged about how good a liar she was."

Kristin Fleckenstein, spokeswoman for the state's attorney's office, said the case could be revived if circumstances change, but for now, "we had an issue with numerous and conflicting statements that our primary witness had given in this case."

The weapon that police said was in Munshower's possession when she was arrested was not used to kill Gordon, Fleckenstein said. She declined to say if it was linked to any other crimes.

Munshower, 21, faces trial in mid-June on a six-count indictment that includes charges of being a convicted felon in possession of a handgun and drug violations.

Witness credibility issues generally do not kill a case, though they may hamper prosecutors.

"There is a difference in degree here," McKenna said.

Sanchez, 31, was accused of having Joseph Samuel Serio, 32, fatally shoot Gordon, 28, of Glen Burnie. His trial was to begin in June.

Munshower claimed to have heard an incriminating conversation between Sanchez and Serio, who is serving a 50-year prison term for his role as the gunman. But Serio said Sanchez had nothing to do with the shooting. Other witnesses would have said the conversation never took place, according to McKenna.

Serio, who prosecutors alleged had gang ties and left for Miami after the killing, did not admit to being the gunman, but acknowledged that evidence against him was strong when he entered an Alford plea last year to first-degree murder.

Sanchez was convicted in 2000 of second-degree murder in the shooting death of a Thurmont man in Baltimore, during what police described as a drug dispute, according to court records.

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