Prosecutors rested their case against Nathaniel Hurt yesterday, after the accused killer's lawyer and the chief police investigator in the case went head-to-head during a heated cross-examination.
Throughout the trial, defense lawyer Stephen L. Miles has accused police of conducting a shoddy or biased investigation into the Oct. 10, 1994, death of 13-year-old Vernon Lee Holmes Jr. Yesterday, given the chance to question the lead detective, Mr. Miles suggested that police ignored evidence indicating Mr. Hurt did not fire the fatal shot.
At times Mr. Miles shouted during his questioning of homicide Detective Marvin Sydnor, and the detective responded in biting tones.
Mr. Miles wanted to know why police waited until Friday to examine an East Baltimore woman's basement -- where the lawyer found part of one bullet jacket, and where he contends a wall holds evidence of a second gunshot that could not have come from Mr. Hurt's .357-caliber Magnum revolver. Police have not found the bullet that killed the boy. Mr. Miles suggested that Detective Sydnor might have found -- and hidden -- a bullet that could establish that another person fired a shot at the time young Vernon was killed.
"Where's the bullet? Is it possible that bullet was a different caliber than a .357 and has kind of disappeared?" he asked the detective.
"Are you saying I took that bullet? It's not true," Detective Sydnor angrily responded.
"Mine's here," Mr. Miles said. "Where's yours?"
Mr. Hurt, 62, of the 800 block of E. North Ave. is charged with first-degree murder. He is expected to take the stand in his own defense as early as today.
Mr. Miles has promised a defense painting Mr. Hurt as the beleaguered victim of a group of young vandals in his East Baltimore neighborhood. He plans to present a sociologist to testify on what he termed "urban fear syndrome," a condition that he suggests will explain Mr. Hurt's acts.
During three days of testimony, prosecutor Mark Cohen has presented witnesses who said Mr. Hurt fired a gun from his fire escape as neighborhood youngsters scrambled into an alley. He also presented witnesses who said Mr. Hurt chased and beat a "chubby" 11-year-old boy just before the shooting.
A police lieutenant testified that Mr. Hurt, upon being arrested, told one neighborhood woman, "It was the fat one again."
The issue of ballistics evidence in the alley surfaced Monday, when Mr. Cohen requested a court hearing to demand that Mr. Miles turn over to authorities the bullet jacket found in a window frame in the basement. Baltimore Circuit Judge Ellen M. Heller ordered Mr. Miles to give it to prosecutors, but the defense lawyer took the opportunity to rail against police detectives for waiting until midtrial to go to the basement.
Asked again and again yesterday by Mr. Miles to explain the delay in inspecting the basement for evidence, Detective Sydnor said that he knew the boy had been killed in the adjoining alley, but did not know precisely where he had been shot. He said the woman's basement window, purportedly damaged by a gunshot, was repaired by the time he inspected the alley about 20 hours after the slaying.
Mr. Miles also demanded to know why Detective Sydnor did not seize a portion of a downspout with a bullet hole until Friday.
The detective, an 11-year veteran of the homicide unit, said that he simply did not see the hole during his Oct. 11 inspection of the alley.
Detective Sydnor refused to concede that a hole in the basement wall was a bullet hole. Mr. Miles asked the detective about holes in a Venetian blind and a plastic window cover -- holes he said trace a path across the alley and not to Mr. Hurt's fire escape.
The detective said those holes could have been caused by flying glass.