Grant prosecutor asks O'Malley for relief

'Serious doubt in my mind,' Phillip Dantes tells governor

October 24, 2011|Dan Rodricks

The man who nearly 30 years ago prosecuted Mark Farley Grant for murder in Baltimore says he never would have brought the case had he known then what he knows today — that a key state's witness had testified only after being threatened at gunpoint by relatives of the original suspect.

Phillip G. Dantes, who served as an assistant city state's attorney in the 1980s, says that, in light of information he now has, he would have prosecuted the original suspect, Mark "Shane" White, who is now deceased, instead of Mr. Grant.

In a letter dated Oct. 19, Mr. Dantes, a Towson attorney who once served as chairman of the Maryland Parole Commission, asked Gov. Martin O'Malley to commute the life sentence of Mr. Grant to "a term of years."

"The new information that I have received through post-conviction counsel, and which I did not have available to me as the prosecutor at the time of the trial, creates serious doubt in my mind as to the culpability of Mr. Grant," Mr. Dantes wrote the governor.

Mr. Grant was 15 years old when a judge sentenced him to life in prison for the 1983 shooting death of Michael Gough, another teenager, during a street robbery on a winter night in West Baltimore.

Mr. Grant has claimed his innocence from the time of his arrest.

In the summer of 2008, professors and students at the University of Maryland School of Law sent Mr. O'Malley a report claiming that Mr. Grant had been wrongly convicted and linking Shane White, now deceased, to the killing. The report was accompanied by a letter asking that Mr. Grant's sentence be commuted.

It is not clear whether, more than three years after it was presented to him, Mr. O'Malley has read the University of Maryland report.

But if he had, the governor certainly would have noticed an affidavit from Mr. Dantes.

Filed with Mr. Grant's law school attorneys in late 2007, the affidavit pointed to Shane White as the likely killer of Michael Gough.

Mr. White, the affidavit states, was originally charged with the killing. But he made a deal with the state, pleading guilty to attempted robbery and becoming one of two key witnesses against Mr. Grant. The other witness was Mardell Brawner, a friend of the victim who claimed to have seen Mr. Grant fire the murder weapon.

In his affidavit, Mr. Dantes says he was informed that Mr. White, his key witness, had failed a polygraph examination. The exam might have been administered by the Maryland State Police, though Mr. Dantes said he could not be sure. But he remembered distinctly that Mr. White had uttered the words, "We were not there," in reference to himself and Mr. Grant on the night of the shooting.

Nonetheless, Mr. White testified against Mr. Grant at trial in Baltimore Circuit Court. "His failure of the polygraph exam and his statement — 'We were not there' — were not provided to the jury, the judge or the defense," Mr. Dantes said in his affidavit.

The former prosecutor said he went ahead with the case because the second key witness, Mardell Brawner, corroborated Mr. White's testimony.

The jury found Mr. Grant guilty. He has been incarcerated ever since.

It wasn't until the five years ago that Mr. Dantes learned that Mr. Brawner's corroborative testimony had been coerced. Mr. Brawner told law school investigators that relatives of Shane White had held a gun to his head in Leakin Park and had threatened to kill him unless he testified against Mr. Grant. Mr. Brawner recanted his testimony and identified Mr. White as the person who shot Michael Gough.

"If I had known that Mardell Brawner had agreed to testify as he did only because he was threatened," Mr. Dantes said, "I would not have prosecuted Mark Grant for murder."

In his letter last week, Mr. Dantes asked Gov. O'Malley to intervene in the case, saying the new information acquired by Mr. Grant's law school attorneys "certainly appears to create enough mitigation to justify commutation relief."

Of course, this "new information" went to the governor more than three years ago, and he's done nothing about it.

Dan Rodricks' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. He is the host of Midday on WYPR 88.1 FM. His email is dan.rodricks@baltsun.com.

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