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Surprise witness tanks defendant's case

How much damage did an 11th-hour witness for the prosecution do to the defense of a Maryland man on trial for murder?

According to his attorney, it devastated his case. Additionally, the defendant’s attorney has raised some serious questions:

  • The reliability of the witness is in question because he’s a jailhouse informant.
  • The witness testified in a bid to get additional time taken off his own sentence for a gangland murder.
  • The state held back information about how serious a criminal background the informant actually had, which could have affected his credibility in front of the jury.
  • The defense attorney alleges that she was not given enough time to investigate the witness’ background.
  • The attorney also had no time to interview the witness prior to his testimony — she had to prepare her cross-examination while he gave his direct testimony to the prosecution.
  • The prosecution alleged that the jailhouse informant provided information he could have only learned from the guilty party — but that information had been printed in early news reports about the crime.

Prior to this jailhouse informant coming forward, there was almost nothing to connect the defendant to the crime.

The defendant’s cellphone was somewhere in the area of the murder, and a firearm was eventually located with the defendant’s palm print on it that ballistic tests connected to the shooting.

However, a previous trial had already ended in a hung jury and police could find no motivation for the crime nor any connection between the two men. His attorney had suggested that the palm print on the gun may have been obtained by police by placing the gun against the defendant’s hand once he was in handcuffs. Absent any actual witnesses, the case did seem highly circumstantial.

Suddenly, for the second trial, the prosecution had a witness who claimed that the defendant had just casually confessed to him about the murder in prison — and the prosecution had their conviction.

Cases like this illustrate why jailhouse informants are so damaging to defense cases — and how hard it can be to remain on guard against them. You don’t necessarily have to actually talk to one in order to end up being talked about by one that’s eager to trade fiction for time off a jail sentence.

If you’ve been charged with a crime, get an experienced criminal defense attorney promptly.

Source: The Baltimore Sun, “Man convicted of murder questions 11th-hour jailhouse witness,” Justin Fenton, Oct. 25, 2017