A special city grand jury is hearing testimony about the performance of Baltimore police officials and prosecutors during 1990 murder investigation that involved state Sen. Larry Young, according to sources familiar with the grand jury probe.
Specifically, the grand jury is looking into whether high-ranking police officials may have attempted to thwart the investigation by compromising the role of a confidential informant, the sources say.
Police sources say Senator Young is regarded as a central figure, but not a suspect in the investigation into the May 1990 death of Marvin Moore, a West Baltimore minister and close friend of the senator. Mr. Young, along with another friend and two relatives of the minister, found Mr. Moore dead in his West Franklin Street apartment.
The probe into the slaying effectively collapsed after city homicide detectives and FBI agents lost contact with an associate of Mr. Young, who was an undercover informant in the homicide investigation, the sources confirm.
In trying to establish the victim's activities before his death, police discovered that Mr. Young's account of when he last saw the victim conflicted with the informant's statements to investigators, the sources said.
Convened by Circuit Judge Kenneth L. Johnson, the special grand jury has in the last two weeks subpoenaed detectives involved in the murder probe.
The panel began its wide-ranging inquiry by looking at the quality of Baltimore's drug enforcement efforts, but it recently turned its attention to possible police misconduct in the handling of investigations, according to sources.
In the Moore case, the panel has questioned detectives about the actions of Col. George Christian, the commander of the Baltimore department's criminal investigations division.
Sources said the grand jury has been told that Colonel Christian ordered homicide detectives to tell him the name of their informant during the 1990 investigation. They refused initially, citing security concerns and noting that such a request was irregular, according to federal and local law enforcement sources. But Colonel Christian insisted, citing orders from Police Commissioner Edward V. Woods, according to the sources.
Colonel Christian declined to be interviewed for this article. Commissioner Woods also declined to speak to The Sun, but told a television reporter yesterday that "There are no improprieties on the part of investigators. . . . There are no improprieties."
Senator Young said yesterday that he had just learned of the grand jury's investigation after calls from the media. He said he stood by his original statement to police and declined to comment further.
The detectives handling the murder investigation, Sgt. Gary Childs and Detectives Marvin Sydnor and Bertina Silver of the homicide unit, declined to comment on the case, as did their supervisor, Lt. Robert Stanton.
Investigators' best hope to solve the murder of Mr. Moore effectively ended when the informant disappeared, only days after Colonel Christian demanded his name, the sources said. For two years, the informant's whereabouts -- as well as the reasons behind his disappearance -- were unknown.
"We don't know if he was bought off, scared off or ran away for reasons that are unrelated to any of this," said one law enforcement source two months ago. "But until he shows up, there's no way to know what happened."
The informant has not yet been located by city police or the FBI, but last month a man who said he was the informant was interviewed by a reporter for The Sun.
The man, who declined to fully identify himself during two telephone interviews, said he did not believe his role as an informant had been revealed.
Instead, he said, he dropped out of contact two years ago because of frustration with the FBI agents handling him. He said the FBI, whose agents he described as impatient and uncautious, was insistent that he question the senator directly about the murder without talking about extraneous matters.
"I couldn't talk to him like that. He'd have definitely known something was up," the man said. "They wouldn't listen."
The man said that before he vanished, he felt that Mr. Young no longer trusted him. "Even though he never said anything to me, I got the impression that Larry was looking at me differently," the man said.
Sources said that the FBI agents handling the informant were told by local detectives of Colonel Christian's actions and warned that their probe may have been compromised. But after failing to locate the informant, the agents did not look into the possibility of misconduct by Baltimore police officials.
FBI officials refuse to discuss the matter. In a prepared statement, Andrew Manning, spokesman for the bureau's local office, said the agency "has a long-standing policy neither to confirm nor deny investigations involving possible public corruption unless someone is charged."
Within the city courthouse, the grand jury convened by Judge Johnson is the source of much controversy. Originally charged with investigating the quality of drug enforcement in the city, the citizen panel apparently has gone into other areas as well.
A growing number of Baltimore police officers are being subpoenaed to testify before the panel, and interviews with some of them suggest the grand jury is trying to determine whether mishandling or misconduct by city police officials has impaired the city's anti-crime efforts.
Judge Johnson had asked the panel to look at why the Police Department seemed to be doing little to pursue major narcotics wholesalers and was instead clogging city courtrooms with hundreds of minor street-level arrests.
The 25-member panel apparently is pursuing that charge, but without the guidance of a city prosecutor, who sometimes direct such inquiries. The jury's interests seemed to have expanded to include possible police misconduct and the perceived susceptibility to political influence, the sources say.
What this grand jury will do with the information it has been gathering since late summer is uncertain. It is expected to issue a report in mid-November and is viewed as unlikely to return indictments as the panel is not working with a prosecutor, the
Until the grand jury's probe, Mr. Moore's death was just another unsolved murder.
When the victim was found inside his apartment by Mr. Young and three others on May 19, 1990, the minister and Gospel music promoter was in his underwear, lying face down on his bed.
He had been shot at close range in the back of the head. There was no sign of forced entry to the apartment.
The senator had been called by the victim's mother, who became concerned when her son didn't call as expected. She contacted the victim's sister and niece, who called Mr. Young and Irvin Conway, another family friend.
The four used the sister's key to enter the apartment that Saturday night, Mr. Conway said.
After the discovery of the body, all four were taken to the homicide unit at police headquarters for statements, according to Mr. Conway. Mr. Young described the victim as a good friend and confidant -- he later eulogized Mr. Moore as his best friend -- and said he had not seen Mr. Moore for three days prior, according to sources.
Several days later, however, police questioned the associate of Mr. Young, who was also friendly with Mr. Moore. The informant said he had called the victim the Friday night before the body was found and talked briefly with Mr. Moore on the phone, sources said.
According to sources close to the investigation, the informant contended that Mr. Moore had told him that he couldn't speak freely, because Mr. Young was there. The minister asked the man to come by later that evening.
The informant told detectives he went to the apartment about 11 p.m. that night and saw Mr. Young's car in the parking lot, the sources said.
The informant told police he knocked on the door of the apartment and left after getting no response.
Police believe the murder occurred in the early hours of that Saturday morning, the sources said.
Faced with the contradictory statements, detectives gave a polygraph examination to the informant, who passed. Then they went to the state's attorney's office to request that they be permitted to use the man to secretly tape a conversation about the murder with Mr. Young, according to law enforcement sources.
The state's attorney's office declined, saying they regarded the informant, who had some prior criminal history, as unreliable. "We simply didn't regard it as a viable option," said one source in the state's attorney's office. "And as far as I know, that decision ended our involvement in the matter."
Detectives were frustrated, however, believing that the informant's pedigree was no more unreliable than those of informants used in dozens of less sensitive homicide cases, the sources say.
Indeed, grand jury members have pointedly asked witnesses about the actions of the state's attorney's office in the murder investigation, sources said. The jurors have also asked about a 1988 charge against the senator.
That charge was brought after Mr. Young reported to police that he had been kidnapped. Investigators quickly came to believe the report was untrue.
After the matter was made public in the press, Mr. Young subsequently was charged with making a false statement, a misdemeanor charge. During his trial, the state's attorney's office did not call a key witness who might have explained why Mr. Young claimed he was kidnapped. Mr. Young was acquitted in the case.
Stuart O. Simms, the city state's attorney, denied any special treatment for Mr. Young in the 1988 case and the murder investigation two years later. "None whatsoever," he said yesterday.
Whatever the reasons for the reluctance of the state's attorney's office, the frustrated homicide detectives offered their new informant to FBI agents.
According to federal law enforcement sources, the lead agent in the case, Special Agent Daniel Dreibelbis, agreed to use the informant only after he passed a second polygraph.
But after one taped conversation, the FBI was not pleased because the senator had discussed extraneous matters with the informant.
Both he and federal law enforcement sources acknowledge that at this point, their partnership began to sour. It was about that time, however, that homicide detectives and their immediate supervisors were confronted by Colonel Christian, demanding to know the informant's name, according to federal and local sources.
The colonel did not ask any other questions about the Moore murder probe, nor had he ever come directly to detectives to ask such sensitive questions about any other case, sources said.
Sources familiar with the grand jury probe say that detectives also testified that this action by Colonel Christian was in conflict with established procedures in the homicide unit.
Although homicide detectives made repeated efforts to find the informant, they have not seen him over the last two years. The man interviewed by The Sun said that detectives recently
confirmed that he is alive by checking with his mother.
The man said he is hiding, in small part because he wants nothing more to do with the murder investigation, and in the larger part because he has an outstanding violation-of-probation warrant for failing to pay a fine in a drug case.
"The FBI was going to help me with that," the man said. "When I left, it didn't get taken care of and that's part of the reason I'm not interested in seeing any police. I feel bad for the Reverend Moore and I wanted to help with that, but, hey, it didn't work out."