Not long after his son was stabbed to death outside his apartment in Hampstead, Richard DeMario heard that police had arrested a suspect, and soon enough it seemed to him they had a strong case. The man had confessed in a video recording and left behind a trail of physical evidence, including a knife said to have been used in the killing and a shirt that prosecutors said was stained with the son's blood.
No jury will see the evidence against Russell S. Laderer Jr., who was charged with first- and second-degree murder, and Cassandra L. Glover, charged as an accessory after the fact. Carroll County prosecutors dropped the charges two weeks ago in the death of 25-year-old Jeremiah P. DeMario, at least in part for the same reason that they dropped charges this week in the case of a Baltimore City teenager who died in 2007 at the Bowling Brook Academy after he was restrained by staff members.
A Carroll County sheriff's detective who worked on both cases and a major who worked on the DeMario case are under investigation for perjury, a sheriff's spokesman said. Their actions in the DeMario case led to the investigation by the Maryland Office of the State Prosecutor, which Carroll County State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes cited this week as a main reason for dropping charges in the death of Isaiah Simmons III, who was 17, at Bowling Brook.
Simmons' mother, Felicia Wilson, said this week that news of the prosecutor's decision was "devastating." Richard DeMario, a civil engineer who lives in Manchester, said on Thursday, "It's pretty tough emotionally. We as a family attended all the hearings. We watched the videotaped confession of how Russell Laderer murdered my son."
That recorded police interrogation and much of the physical evidence in the case were ruled out by Circuit Court Judge Michael M. Galloway in August. Galloway held that on the night of the stabbing, Laderer was "illegally detained by the police" because the police had not established just cause to hold him. Any evidence the police gathered as a result of detaining him could not be used in court, the judge ruled.
As a result of the detention — started by the Hampstead Police Department and continued by the Carroll County sheriff's office — the cases against Laderer and Glover were in trouble from the start. Complications continued to unfold involving contradictory statements that Detective Douglas Epperson, who investigated the stabbing, and his supervisor, Maj. Nicholas A. Plazio, made under oath in pre-trial hearings and in conversation with prosecutors. Both are under investigation, said Maj. Phil Kasten.
When he announced that he was dropping the cases against Laderer and Glover, Barnes released a statement saying he could not continue the prosecution because of "unconstitutional police procedures utilized in the investigation of these cases, that have resulted in this Court's rightful suppression of the evidence necessary to proceed."
Brian L. DeLeonardo, the attorney for Laderer, said that the statement released March 12 makes no sense in view of the fact that the judge made his key ruling on evidence in August. He said problems with the cases were immediately obvious to him after he reviewed the police reports, and to Epperson, who was on the scene of the killing outside an apartment complex about 90 minutes after Hampstead police arrived.
According to DeLeonardo's motion to dismiss the case against Laderer, Epperson testified in a hearing on Feb. 29 that he had talked with Deputy State's Attorney David P. Daggett days after DeMario's death and "informed him there were major issues with the case, including the fact that Mr. Laderer and Ms. Glover had been held at the scene for too long."
Clarke Ahlers, a lawyer who has been representing Epperson since November, said Barnes was making the detective a scapegoat for a botched prosecution.
"I think he has difficulty managing the state's attorney's office, and when they blow these big cases, they need a sacrificial lamb," Ahlers said. He said Epperson "attempted to tell the prosecutors there were problems with the case, within a day or two of the incident."
Richard DeMario said that from sitting on the pre-trial hearings, he could sense there were problems with the case. Still, he said the family remained confident.
"We thought 'So what if there are some other issues? There's still enough physical evidence,'" said DeMario, who has six children, including Jeremiah, who left behind a son who is now 3 years old. "Any jury who sees the evidence I've seen would convict this guy."