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Prosecutors arranged lunch meeting for murder trial witnesses

HomicideLaws and Legislation

A Baltimore Circuit Court judge said he is considering holding city prosecutors in contempt after they arranged a secret "lunch date" between two cooperating witnesses in a high-profile murder trial, but said he would not throw out the case or grant a mistrial.

Judge Emanuel Brown said he found the prosecutors' actions "contemptible" and said they "violated the process in a way that cannot be tolerated." Brown said he would defer a decision on discipline until after trial.

Defense attorneys complained that they should have been told of the meeting, which they said could be construed as a "benefit" for the witnesses and running afoul of rules instructing witnesses not to discuss testimony. The witnesses said they did not discuss the case at lunch.

The case against Robert G. Moore, 45, and two codefendants — accused of murder conspiracy in a series of retaliatory shootings — has been fraught with threats and unusually strict attempts to control evidence and witness testimony.

But on Thursday, during a lunch break in the key testimony of Moore's wife, Sarah Hooker, prosecutors arranged for Hooker to have lunch with her brother, Donnie Adams. Adams and Hooker, both charged in the case, have pleaded guilty and agreed to testify.

The lunch came to light after defense attorney Garland Sanderson, who was sitting outside the downtown courthouses, saw Adams having a cigarette outside the courthouse. Adams is in custody and had already testified earlier in the trial. Sanderson began asking questions and found out about the meeting.

Assistant State's Attorney Kelly Madigan took responsibility for the meeting. "It was my intention to do something nice on a human level," she said.

Adams and Hooker were brought into the courtroom Friday morning independently and without the jury present to answer questions about the lunch. Both said they did not request the lunch or know it was going to happen.

Adams and Hooker both testified that they did not discuss the case, and that police were in the room at all times. But defense attorneys were skeptical.

Hooker, the attorneys said, has waffled between cooperating and recanting her statements. She testified Friday that she had also asked to see her children. Defense attorneys said they should have been notified of the lunch meeting and any other requests made by the witnesses.

The attorneys wanted Brown to toss out the trial, but he decided that allowing the defense attorneys to question the witnesses about the meeting and emphasizing it to the jury was a sufficient remedy.

Brown's biggest concern appeared to be what he called the prosecutors' "misuse" of the process to get Adams brought to the courthouse from the city jail.

Brown said he almost took action Thursday when the meeting was first discovered, then thought about it overnight and decided to "look at the entire picture."

"At least in some part, the state's actions were founded in acts of human kindness. But it still violated the process," he said.

He said the prosecutors on the case, Madigan and Larai Everett, had otherwise been "conscientious and well-intentioned" and noted that the defense had committed a discovery violation earlier in the trial.

Moore was not present in the courtroom, and has not been for the duration of the trial after refusing to cooperate in the proceedings. Brown has ruled it would be too dangerous to bring him to court by force, and state law allows trials to proceed without the defendants present if they are deemed to have chosen not to be in court or are so disruptive that they have to be removed.

The case stems from the shooting of Moore's cousin, which prosecutors say touched off a series of retaliatory attacks. Defense attorneys representing Moore and Quincy Chisholm, 22, and Anthony Roach, 36, say the case rests on the testimony of addicts, drug dealers and killers.

jfenton@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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