'Accessory' charges dropped Man agrees to testify in Center St. slaying


A Westminster man has agreed to testify against three Baltimore County men charged in the fatal January shooting on Center Street.

In return, Carroll County prosecutors yesterday dropped charges accessory to first-degree murder lodged against him.

Appearing without his attorney before Carroll Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr., Matthew August Balaz Jr., 25, stood as Assistant State's Attorney Kathi Hill dropped the two accessory counts.

"We initially decided to charge Mr. Balaz when he wouldn't cooperate by coming into the police department, and we determined that we had enough evidence to file a charge," Ms. Hill told Judge Beck. "But he gave us a complete statement, and he is subpoenaed to testify in the three murder trials."

Those trials -- the first is scheduled to begin next month -- are of the men charged in the Jan. 29 slaying of Gregory Lamont Howard, 22, of Old Manchester Road. The killing, which took place on Westminster's drug-plagued South Center Street, was the first in Carroll County since the March 25, 1992, fatal shooting of a Melrose hardware store owner.

Prosecutors are seeking to have the men sentenced to life without parole, according to court filings last week.

A pretrial motions hearing is scheduled for Monday morning for Samuel Allen Miller, 22, the alleged trigger man in the homicide. Mr. Miller, of Owings Mills, is being held in the Carroll County Detention Center without bond. He is charged with first- and second-degree murder.

Timothy Cumberland, 23, of Reisterstown, also is being held at the detention center on $250,000 full bond. Charged with first- and second-degree murder, manslaughter, conspiracy and related counts, Mr. Cumberland is alleged to have tossed the gun to Mr. Miller before it was fired at Mr. Howard, police said. His pretrial motions hearing is set for Thursday.

Daniel Justin Leonard, 23, of Reisterstown, is charged with felony murder, accused of being an accessory before and after the fact. He is free on $100,000 secured bond, and awaits a pretrial motions hearing on Aug. 26.

According to police, the three defendants went to South Center Street to buy cocaine and purchased what they thought was cocaine for $40. After driving away, police said, the three discovered they had been sold a package of Ivory laundry detergent. They drove back, looking for the person who sold them the bogus crack.

Mr. Howard walked toward the car, police said, and was shot. He was not involved in that drug transaction, police said.

Mr. Balaz, who police said disposed of the gun used in the slaying, was arrested Feb. 19.

According to court records, the three suspects went to Champs, a Main Street bar, after the slaying. Before they entered the bar, the gun was placed in a 1986 silver Mazda belonging to Mr. Balaz, who was a friend of Mr. Cumberland, police said.

According to police records, Mr. Cumberland and the other defendants were talking about the slaying when Mr. Balaz learned that the gun in his car was the one used in the shooting. The next day, he disposed of it, police said.

Mr. Balaz initially didn't want to talk to police, his attorney said yesterday. Prosecutors and police needed his testimony about the murder weapon, and, his attorney said, charging him as an accessory was one way to get him to answer questions.

"Pressure will make you do what you're supposed to do," Sam Serio, the attorney, said. "We went in there, he told him what he knew, and they got a witness."

Mr. Balaz, a manager at an Owings Mills 7-Eleven store, will testify at all three trials as a prosecution witness.

The experience has been "extremely difficult" for him, said his girlfriend, Vicki Bryant, who also is expected to be a state's witness.

"It's been really rough on us," she said.

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