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Transcript error brings new trial in murder case


BEL AIR -- A court stenographer's error recording a jury verdict has landed Willie "Chico" Williams a new trial.

Williams was convicted two years ago of first-degree murder in the slaying of a Washington man. The trial was held in Harford County Circuit Court and a state appeals court's order for a new trial has Joseph Cassilly fuming.

Mr. Cassilly, the Harford County state's attorney, says the county courts now may have to spend up to $20,000 to retry Williams. "Something is wrong here," Mr. Cassilly said. "We're laying off state troopers. We don't have money to give out raises. But we can try this stupid thing all over again."

The state's highest court, the Court of Appeals, denied a motion Tuesday by prosecutors to reinstate Williams' guilty verdict and avoid another trial. The denial, in effect, upheld a state Court of Special Appeals ruling that the Circuit Court transcript of Williams' March 1990 trial prevails even if it is "plausible" that it contains an error.

The controversy revolves around a transcript of the trial prepared by the stenographer at Williams' trial. The transcript showed one juror as saying his verdict was "not guilty" when the jury was polled at the end of the eight-day trial.

It was later learned the stenographer had misquoted the juror.

Since the transcript showed that the jury was not unanimous in its verdict, the appeals court said the case must go back to Harford County.

Williams was found guilty of premeditated first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Donald A. Smith of Washington, D.C., on April 19, 1989, at an Edgewood townhouse. Harford Circuit Judge Stephen M. Waldron sentenced Williams, 46, to life in prison without parole.

Mr. Williams' wife, Betty "Moms" Williams, was convicted in a separate trial. Her conviction is not affected by the court of appeals ruling.

The Court of Special Appeals sent Mr. Williams' case back to Harford for "further proceedings" in June 1991. With the case back in Circuit Court, prosecutors filed motions to correct the transcript.

Circuit Judge Cypert Whitfill denied the prosecution's motion, saying in a Feb. 21 ruling that the appeals court has final authority in the case.

Williams is scheduled for trial on June 29 and Mr. Cassilly said his office now will pursue a second conviction.

"We want we what we got the first time," the prosecutor said.

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