Witness in death penalty trial demonstrates cell-door tampering

A prosecution witness in a prisoner's death penalty trial demonstrated Tuesday how a cell door from the now-closed Maryland House of Correction could be tampered with, and a fellow inmate called by the state said he watched a fatal attack on a correctional officer by a pair of prisoners who left their cells.

The jury stood and watched an expert in jail cell locks manipulate the locking system on a door brought into the Anne Arundel County courtroom to show how he believes the locks on the cell doors of two state prisoners were jimmied, and testifying that nearly half of the cell door locks he checked barely functioned.

The testimony came during the third day of the death penalty trial of Lee Edward "Shy" Stephens, a 32-year-old prisoner serving a sentence of life plus 15 years. Stephens is charged with first-degree murder in the fatal stabbing July 25, 2006, of Cpl. David McGuinn, and has maintained his innocence.

Also Tuesday, a prisoner on the House of Correction tier where McGuinn was stabbed while conducting the 10 p.m. head count testified that a number of prisoners knew the attack was coming and watched as Stephens and Lamarr (also spelled Lamar) Cornelius "Junebug" Harris assaulted McGuinn.

Prisoner Edward Jason "Free" Freed told jurors that another prisoner alerted him earlier on the day of the homicide to the coming event. So, he said, from his bunk, he poked a mirror out between cell bars to watch at the appointed hour and saw a lineup of mirrors similarly positioned on the 49-cell tier to watch McGuinn.

"Towards the end of the tier, after he's passed Junebug's cell, Junie lifted up the door," said Freed, who was serving time for robbery with a deadly weapon.

"He started stabbing him from the back," he testified, later adding that "as soon as Junie started stabbing him, Shy started stabbing, too." He said the men had trapped McGuinn and appeared to stab him repeatedly before McGuinn ran off the tier.

The defense has maintained that Freed is testifying in exchange for leniency on pending federal gun charges.

With jurors out of the courtroom, Stephens' defense team lambasted prosecutors and unsuccessfully asked Judge Paul A. Hackner to declare a mistrial. Prosecutors had McGuinn's sister, Crystal, talk to prisoner Rasiast McDonald, last Thursday in their offices, and she testified that he told her he wouldn't testify against Stephens out of fear. Hackner had previously barred witnesses from speaking about their testimony.

While Hackner did not find that prosecutors had engaged in "undue influence," he chided them for telling him there was a transportation problem last week with McDonald when the problem was that McDonald had to be pried out of his cell to be brought to the courthouse. Prosecutors expect to try to call him again.

The prosecution is expected to continue into next week in a trial expected to last seven weeks.


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