Judge refuses to free defendant despite throwing out evidence

A Baltimore judge refused Thursday to set a man free before his Jan. 26 attempted-murder trial, despite having thrown out a key - and possibly the only - piece of evidence against him last week because it had been altered by police.

"That doesn't change the public safety component," said Circuit Court Judge John P. Miller in explaining his decision to let an $800,000 bail stand, after it was revealed that an officer altered a photo of the defendant to get positive witness identification.

Miller suppressed the ID on Dec. 29, saying it could not "pass muster with regard to a constitutional review."

Christopher Robinson, 19, is charged in the case with attempted murder in the April 17 shooting of Brian Kinyon, who says he was shot as retaliation for quitting the Black Guerrilla Family.

The charges are straightforward. But the evidence underlying them is muddled by the police tactics and the ever-present concern in Baltimore that witnesses have been threatened into changing their stories. The latter is such a regular occurrence that judges and prosecutors are skeptical of victims who claim in court that a defendant is innocent, as has happened in this case.

But Robinson's court-appointed defense attorney said he is confident that his indigent client is not the shooter, and he worries that the young man will be held for many more months because of trial postponements. At least one has already occurred.

"There is not a scintilla of evidence against Mr. Robinson," defense lawyer Gary Proctor said during Thursday's bail review hearing, adding later in the proceeding that detention of his client borders on "internment."

But prosecutor Charles Fitzpatrick said the state is still investigating the case and reminded the court of the "serious charges." And the judge couldn't see releasing Robinson on his own recognizance under those circumstances. He warned Fitzpatrick that further postponements weren't likely to be granted, however.

"You've got to go forward on the 26th," he said. "You've had sufficient time."

Robinson's friends and family took up most of the seats in the small courtroom.

"He's getting falsely accused," his mother said after the hearing.

"We know he wasn't there," added his fiancee.

In the early morning hours of April 17, Kinyon got into his car in front of his Northwest Baltimore home with a female friend and started driving. He heard someone call out "Yo," which he would later tell police was a signal for the shooter to get ready. He turned left onto Waldorf Avenue and made it half a block before the gunfire began. He was hit at least two times. His friend drove him to Sinai Hospital.

Days later, Kinyon identified the lookout as a possible BGF member named Darryl Knight, according to police. He also identified a gang member with "low-cut hair" who goes by "Crock" as the potential shooter.

A police database shows Robinson has the alias "Crock" from a 2006 arrest for fighting in school, though his family says it's not his nickname.

Still, Northwest District Detective Dominic Winder found the match in the database and created a picture array based on Robinson's three-year-old photo to show the victim. Robinson was in the bottom left, a 16-year-old with bushy hair, similar to the other photos.

When the detective showed Kinyon the picture, he got no reaction, Winder said during the Dec. 29 hearing, a recording of which was reviewed by The Baltimore Sun.

So another detective gave a copy of Robinson's photo a haircut by trimming it with scissors, according to Winder, and possibly adding facial hair, according to Kinyon, who now saw a resemblance. He signed the photo array above Robinson's head.

More than two months later, Robinson was arrested at his home in North Baltimore.

At least eight people say they can attest to his whereabouts that night and back up their statements with phone records. Robinson has no criminal convictions, though he does have a 2003 juvenile charge pending in Baltimore County.

And, as expected, he says he's not the shooter. What's less expected is that the victim agrees.

In court last week, Kinyon said he had never seen Robinson in his life.

"That's not the person," Kinyon said.

But on the stand, he also changed his story about Knight, whom he has known since elementary school. That and other factors make him appear a reluctant and unreliable witness to the prosecution.

But, Fitzpatrick pointed out, Kinyon "could have a come-to-Jesus moment and give an explanation why he recanted" at trial.

Proctor said he didn't recant when it comes to Robinson. He just told the truth.