Bernard L. Ward Jr. has spent the past two years in prison, serving a life sentence for a murder he insists he did not commit and for a guilty plea he says he was cornered into making.

The 31-year-old Pasadena man went to court yesterday to seek a new trial. His current lawyer blamed Ward's decision to plead guilty to murder -- after all the evidence had been heard but before the case had gone to the jury -- on the advice of a lying, corrupt, incompetent defense attorney whohad been outwitted during the abbreviated trial.

"Mr. Ward sits before you today, and in all candor he has very little faith in the law, and he has very little faith in the court, because the system that was set up to protect the innocent failed him," said Ward's new lawyer, Frederic C. Heyman.

In the first day of what is expected to be a three-day hearing, Heyman blasted attorney George Kariotis' performance in defending Ward against the evidence presented by Assistant State's Attorney Ronald M. Naditch. Heyman likenedthe "mismatch" to an average man stepping into the boxing ring with Mike Tyson.

Heyman faulted Kariotis -- who is expected to testify later in the hearing -- for failing to adequately question the state's witnesses, failing to file motions to exclude evidence, failing to fully develop an alibi defense and with lying to Ward on the occasions they talked before the 1989 trial.

For those reasons, Heyman said, Ward was not acting voluntarily and with assistance of competent counsel when he pleaded guilty two years ago to murdering Edward Eugene Brewer, a 25-year-old Baltimore man last seen alive in a gay bar inBaltimore. Ward entered an Alford plea, in which a defendant acknowledges sufficient evidence to convict him of the charge but does not admit guilt.

But Assistant State's Attorney William C. Mulford II told the court that Ward and his key witnesses, Jim Scott and Mark Malanowski, are all "bald-faced liars."

Speaking of Ward's relationship with Scott, who has championed Ward's innocence both before and after his trial, Mulford said they were "kind of alter-egos, lovers, best friends, whatever" who together concocted an alibi defense.

Mulford said Ward's guilty plea was voluntarily -- and legally -- entered, and any claim to the contrary is "intellectual dishonesty."

Theprosecutor said any criticisms of Kariotis' performance were Monday-morning quarterbacking of trial tactics and not "errors of fact" constituting incompetence.

In addition to his earlier accusations, Heyman said Kariotis attempted to bribe a state's witness into giving perjured testimony.

During testimony at the hearing, Malanowski saidKariotis offered him free legal services to fudge the date by two days he had last seen Ward before Brewer's murder. Under Mulford's cross-examination, however, Malanowski contradicted his trial testimony several times.

Ward stood trial in July 1989 on charges of first-degree murder and armed robbery in Brewer's death. In return for his guilty plea, prosecutors agreed not to seek a sentence of life in prison with no chance for parole and dropped the armed robbery charge.

Before being sentenced two months later, Ward asked for a new trial, complaining Kariotis had been incompetent. But Naditch argued that allowing such a move could set a bad precedent by permitting a defendant to gauge a jury's reaction to the case, strike a plea bargain and then ask for a new trial.

Circuit Judge H. Chester Goudy Jr., ruling that Ward had been adequately advised of his rights and had made a reasoned choice in pleading guilty, refused to grant him a new trial.Ward is now serving time at the Maryland Penitentiary in Baltimore.

Ward unsuccessfully asked the state Court of Special Appeals to throw out his conviction, arguing that Goudy, after hearing conflictingtestimony in the trial, should have rejected his plea. But the appeals court ruled Ward could not appeal a guilty plea.

Ward and his friends and family did not give up their quest to prove him innocent of the murder. The Annapolis Capital newspaper published a lengthy story last summer, suggesting Ward was in Florida at the time of the murder. The story was reprinted in The Alternative, a gay-oriented newspaper in Baltimore. Ward's wife and children picketed the Circuit Court building in Annapolis after the news story was published.

Then county homicide detectives reopened the case. In court yesterday, Mulford said the results of that investigation, rather than helping Ward,turned up even more damaging information.

Evidence at the trial revealed Brewer's body, wearing only socks, was found Dec. 12, 1988 --on what would have been his 26th birthday. An Anne Arundel County police officer, in an unrelated case, was searching for a juvenile in the basement of an abandoned building at Crain Highway and West Furnace Branch Road when he saw a leg sticking out from under a pile of debris.

Brewer had been stabbed more than 20 times in the chest and had a broken neck. An autopsy showed he had been dead three to five weeks.

During their investigation, police discovered that a 1977 Chevrolet Camaro owned by the victim's mother, and driven by the victim,had been set on fire Nov. 16, 1988, in the parking lot of a Glen Burnie apartment complex. Witnesses at the abbreviated murder trial saidWard looked like one of three men seen near the car. A convenience clerk identified Ward as the man who bought a gasoline can shortly before the fire.

Another witness testified he saw Ward and the victimleaving a gay bar in Baltimore together between 9 and 10 p.m. Nov. 15, 1988, and that he heard them making plans to go to Florida.

Evidence in the trial included a tape recording of a statement Ward madeto arresting officers. On the tape, he admitted being at the scene of the crime but blamed a third man seen near the car with killing Brewer. Ward has said he was bullied into making that statement.

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