A 33-year-old Glen Burnie man who served five years in jail for a murder he denied committing was freed last night by an Anne Arundel Circuit Court jury.
Bernard L. Ward was found innocent in the death of 25-year-old Edward Brewer after five days of testimony. The retrial had focused on whether jurors believed witnesses who placed him at the murder scene or those who said he was in Florida at the time of the 1988 murder.
"I'm going to go out and eat some real food, then I'm going to spend some time with my family," said Mr. Ward, who put his face in his hands and sobbed when the verdict was announced.
He said he would spend this Valentine's Day -- his 34th birthday -- with his fiance, Debbie Arthur of Dundalk, who sat behind him throughout the weeklong trial.
Mr. Ward still faces a perjury charge for lying to prosecutors in a post-conviction proceeding. Prosecutors said last night they were mulling over whether to drop that charge.
The jury of six men and six women deliberated seven hours before acquitting Mr. Ward in the killing. Mr. Brewer was found strangled, beaten and stabbed in an abandoned house along Crain Highway on Dec. 12, 1988, by an Anne Arundel County police officer searching for a runaway teen-ager.
The victim had been missing for about a month. His 1977 Chevrolet Camaro had been set on fire Nov. 16 and left to burn in a parking lot about 50 yards from the house.
On Dec. 16, Mr. Ward was arrested at the home of his former wife in Tallahassee, Fla. Witnesses had said they saw him standing near the victim's burning car.
Defense attorneys Fred Heyman and Carl Schlaich, who took the case for free, asked jurors to focus on the testimony of Mr. Ward's ex-wife, a Social Security clerk, a courthouse clerk in Tallahassee and a family friend. All said Mr. Ward was in Florida the day of the murder.
"We're both ecstatic," Mr. Schlaich said last night.
Assistant State's Attorney William Mulford said he still felt the evidence pointed to Mr. Ward. "Why he didn't say from the beginning that he was in Florida I'll never know," Mr. Mulford said.
The prosecution focused much of its case on Mr. Ward's inconsistent statments to police after his arrest.
Mr. Ward told sheriff's detectives in Tallahasse that he had picked up Mr. Brewer in a gay bar on Park Avenue in Baltimore and rode with him and another man to Glen Burnie, where the other man stabbed Mr. Brewer.
He later told police that the statement had been a lie.
But prosecutors said details about the murder revealed by Mr. Ward -- that Mr. Brewer was driving that night and that he was stabbed -- would have only been known by the killer.
But the state was forced to base part of its case on witnesses recalling events from five years ago.
Mr. Ward pleaded guilty under an Alford plea to first-degree murder in 1989, cutting short his trial after prosecutors offered him a life sentence instead of life without parole.
Mr. Ward won a retrial in 1992 when a judge ruled that his former counsel, George Kariotis, had been incompetent.
An Alford plea means the defendant is not admitting guilt but acknowledges that the state has would have sufficient evidence to convict if the case were tried.
Jurors said afterward that the prosecution presented evidence making them think Mr. Ward may be connected to the killing, but that it failed to prove that he was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
"We agonized right from the beginning," said Columbus Newton, an Annapolis juror.
He said that a majority of the jury was in favor of acquittal right from the start, but that it was a matter of swaying the undecided jurors over the course of several votes.