Nearly six months after Nathaniel Hurt was arrested in the fatal shooting of a 13-year-old East Baltimore boy, lawyers in the case yesterday clashed over newly disclosed ballistics evidence.
In a hastily arranged court hearing, a judge ordered Mr. Hurt's lawyer to give prosecutors a bullet casing found about a month ago near where young Vernon Lee Holmes Jr. was shot.
The defense lawyer, Stephen L. Miles, countered with a charge that police were scrambling to cover up a biased investigation when they descended on an East Baltimore woman's basement Friday and found additional bullet fragments in a wall.
Mr. Hurt, 62, returns to court today for the third day of his trial. Charged with first-degree murder in the boy's death, Mr. Hurt contends that he was justified in firing his .357-caliber Magnum on Oct. 10, 1994, because he had been tormented by a group of young vandals.
Mr. Miles has acknowledged that Mr. Hurt probably fired the fatal shot, but he has said his client did not intend to hit the boy. Furthermore, he has suggested that someone else may have fired shots the night of the slaying -- and yesterday he disclosed the evidence he said will make that point.
A neighborhood woman who was washing clothes at the time of the shooting will say a bullet pierced a window and whizzed through her basement before lodging in a wall, Mr. Miles said. He said the woman traces the bullet's path from a hole in the window -- since repaired -- through a shade and to the wall to suggest that it did not come from the fire escape where Mr. Hurt was seen firing his gun.
"It means another gun was fired and my client may not have killed [the Holmes youth]," Mr. Miles said yesterday. He said he initially worked on the assumption that Mr. Hurt had fired the fatal shot, but he now hopes the questions may leave jurors with enough doubt in their minds to find his client not guilty.
Yesterday's hearing was convened to address issues surrounding what may be the remains of a second bullet that struck the woman's house. Mr. Miles went to court with a small black canister containing a bullet fragment recovered from the frame of the woman's basement window.
Prosecutor Mark Cohen said Mr. Miles had violated rules requiring defense attorneys to surrender physical evidence of a crime, and Baltimore Circuit Judge Ellen M. Heller agreed.
Mr. Miles said that slug jacket appears to have come from a .357-caliber bullet -- which would suggest that Mr. Hurt fired it.
After turning over the evidence to Mr. Cohen, Mr. Miles turned his ire toward Baltimore police. He accused investigators of rushing to the scene Friday because they learned of the bullet jacket -- after police had previously testified they found no bullet holes in the area.
"They're either totally incompetent or they deliberately sat on the information," Mr. Miles said.
The police witnesses in the case are a patrol officer who was first on the scene, a sergeant who described where Mr. Hurt's vandalized car was parked and a lieutenant who established a command post for a SWAT team.
Crime scene photos were not taken until two days after the incident -- apparently after the basement window had been repaired.
Marvin Sydnor, a homicide detective assigned to the case, is expected to testify about his investigation when the trial resumes today.