Gag order sought in Harris killing case

Charles Y. McGaney

Gary Collins
Attorneys representing two men accused of killing former City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr. are seeking a gag order in the case, arguing that publicity would make it difficult for their clients to get a fair trial.

At a hearing yesterday, Charles Y. McGaney, 19, and Gary Collins, 20, were ordered held without bail by District Judge Devy Patterson Russell. Police say the men fatally shot Harris outside a Northeast Baltimore jazz club in a robbery and have been linked to the crime through DNA and witnesses.

In a motion filed yesterday in District Court, attorneys for McGaney and Collins sought to limit public statements about the case, pointing to comments made to the news media by police and city officials. The defense attorneys wrote that their clients are presumed innocent, and argued that news coverage would make it difficult to select a fair and impartial jury.

"There is every reason to believe ... that the Baltimore City Police Department agents will continue to make public statements" unless an order is issued by the court, wrote defense attorneys Jan Bledsoe and Jerome LaCorte.

The Baltimore Sun, WJZ and WBAL are expected to file a motion today to oppose the order.

Gag order requests have become increasingly common in high- profile cases in Baltimore.

City Public Defender Elizabeth Julian has obtained gag orders in the cases of Mark Castillo, the Montgomery County man accused of drowning his three children in the bathtub of an Inner Harbor hotel, and Brandon Grimes, who was convicted in August of murdering Baltimore Police Detective Troy Lamont Chesley Sr.

In addition to stifling comment about the cases, the gag orders have made it difficult for the public and reporters to get information about hearing dates and scheduling changes.

"We are always very concerned when a party tries to restrict access to information about a public trial," said Karen Kaiser, an attorney for Tribune Co., owner of The Baltimore Sun. "The breadth of the request here is extraordinary, as it would silence everyone connected to this case."

McGaney and Collins were brought to the bail review hearing together and sat next to one another on a bench, flanked by five correctional officers.

As an official provided details about their backgrounds, the two men did not speak except to acknowledge that they had received paperwork related to their case.

McGaney, who police believe wore a skeleton mask that became a focal point of the investigation, attended Edmondson High School through 10th grade and lives with his father, according to statements made in court today. He has worked at a thrift store for the past two months.

McGaney was convicted in August of possessing a handgun in Baltimore County. He had no juvenile convictions, which his attorney, LaCorte, noted in asking for Russell to impose a "reasonable" bail.

Collins dropped out of the 10th grade and has a 4-month-old child, according to statements made in court. He was not working at the time of his arrest.

Bledsoe, his attorney, characterized his criminal record, which consists of a single drug possession conviction, as "clearly minor."

"It's early, but he denies" the allegations, Bledsoe told reporters outside when asked about the charges against Collins.

McGaney and Collins were arrested during a raid at a home in the 1600 block of Pentwood Road, less than a mile from Northwood Plaza, location of the New Haven Lounge jazz club, where Harris was shot.

Police said they believe a third person, whom they have not identified, was also involved.