Death penalty possible Defense in Basu case tried to prevent it


Defense attorneys for a Washington man charged with the carjack murder of Pam Basu failed in their attempts yesterday to have prosecutors' requests for the death penalty withdrawn.

Baltimore County Circuit Judge Dana M. Levitz refused yesterday to withdraw the notice of the Howard County state's attorney's office to seek the maximum sentence against Rodney Eugene Solomon.

Mr. Solomon, 27, is scheduled to stand trial Aug. 2 on 19 counts, including first-degree murder, in the Sept. 8 slaying of Dr. Basu, a Savage resident.

In an attempt to block a possible death penalty if Mr. Solomon is convicted, his lawyers claimed that Howard County prosecutors had engaged in misconduct in building a case against their client.

Mr. Solomon's lawyers argued that the prosecutors withheld statements from Mr. Solomon's co-defendant, Bernard Miller, who claimed to be driving Dr. Basu's stolen car when she was dragged to her death.

The state contends that Mr. Solomon was driving the car, which makes him eligible for the death penalty.

Miller, 17, was sentenced June 29 to life in prison plus 10 years for his role in the crime.

The defense also maintained that Howard County prosecutors thwarted the defense's efforts to obtain blood and urine samples from Mr. Solomon and that prosecutors sent letters to potential witnesses warning them against cooperating with defense attorneys.

In addition, defense lawyers accused the Howard County police of destroying evidence collected from the crime scene and improperly releasing to the media booking photos of Mr. Solomon and Miller.

"Whether intentional or not, whether as a grand design or not, there has been an overt effort to obstruct Mr. Solomon's right to investigate and prepare his defense," said W. Samuel Truette, an assistant public defender representing Mr. Solomon.

In denying the defense request to withdraw the death penalty, Judge Levitz said that if the state had interfered with Mr. Solomon's defense, those facts can be brought out at trial. "If you convince the jury that Mr. Solomon is not the driver, then I'll tell the jury they have to find him not guilty of principal in the first degree," Judge Levitz said.

The judge also denied the defense motion to get a second change of venue from Baltimore County because those residents were subjected to the same prejudicial pre-trial publicity as Howard County residents.

"I don't know where you'd go in the state that would not have had significant publicity in this case," Judge Levitz said.

If an impartial jury can't be found in Baltimore County, Judge Levitz said, the trial would be postponed or moved to another county.

Howard County's district public defender, Carol Hanson, said that originally Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr., administrative judge for the 5th Judicial Circuit, asked Circuit Judge Alfred T. Truitt Jr. of Wicomico County to take the Solomon case.

After Judge Truitt refused, Baltimore County's administrative judge agreed to take the case, Ms. Hanson said.

In light of Judge Levitz's decision not to remove the case from Baltimore County, Ms. Hanson said that she plans to ask for a postponement until the publicity regarding Miller's June 29 sentencing subsides.

Judge Levitz denied other defense motions asking that prosecutors be prohibited from:

* Using photographs of the Basu family's home that show a "for sale" sign in front, because it suggests that Dr. Basu's husband decided to sell the home because of his wife's death.

* Using the term "carjacking" because Mr. Solomon has not been charged with that crime.

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