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Officer contradicts Hurt's defense


A police weapons expert at Nathaniel Hurt's murder trial said yesterday that a hole in a basement wall -- billed by the defense as proof that another person fired shots the night of a 13-year-old boy's slaying -- actually was created by a drill.

"My conclusion is that it wasn't a bullet hole at all," Lt. Charles J. Key testified, referring to a mysterious hole found in an East Baltimore woman's home, near the shooting scene.

That testimony -- delivered over the angry objections of defense lawyer Stephen L. Miles -- came immediately after the defense rested its case on the sixth day of Mr. Hurt's trial in Baltimore Circuit Court.

The jury could start deliberations when the trial resumes Monday, after lawyers for both sides deliver closing arguments.

Mr. Hurt, charged with first-degree murder in the Oct. 10, 1994, death of Vernon Lee Holmes Jr., has testified that he was threatened by a group of youths and fired warning shots in self-defense. Mr. Miles had said the hole in the basement wall was proof that someone other than his client fired a shot.

Yesterday's court session was a rocky one for the 62-year-old defendant. Out of the presence of the jury, a prosecutor said that Mr. Hurt was convicted of assault in 1980 for punching an insurance clerk who had uttered a racial slur. Also, presiding Judge Ellen M. Heller limited the testimony of a key defense witness, George Washington University sociologist William Chambliss.

Judge Heller had ruled Thursday that the defense could not argue that Mr. Hurt was a victim of "urban fear syndrome." Yesterday, explaining a ruling that Dr. Chambliss could not tell the jury about studies showing that black, urban residents are unlikely to call 911 when threatened, the judge said defense lawyers did not properly share documents with prosecutors.

Dr. Chambliss testified that elderly inner-city dwellers tend to be more fearful of crime than most younger people. He also cited statistics showing that the city's Eastern District, where Mr. Hurt lives, is a high-crime area.

Dr. Chambliss was followed by two character witnesses for Mr. Hurt before the defense rested. Prosecutor Mark Cohen then called Lieutenant Key as a rebuttal witness.

The lieutenant, director of firearms training for the city police, began by criticizing a defense videotape showing shooters of various skill levels missing targets from more than 70 feet -- the distance Mr. Hurt was from the slain youth. He said the video was "significant of nothing" because it shed no light on Mr. Hurt's shooting abilities.

His testimony then turned to the hole found in a wall in Shelia Johnson's basement. Mr. Miles, who learned of the hole before homicide detectives, has said it was made by a bullet whose trajectory suggested that it could not have come from Mr. Hurt's gun.

The lieutenant said he first examined the hole on Monday.

"It was obvious to me from the beginning it was not a bullet hole," he said. He said the inside of the hole was smooth, and not rough like a bullet hole in plywood would be. Also, he said the angle of the hole was inconsistent with a shot coming through a nearby window.

Mr. Miles, who had been standing near the jury box as the lieutenant explained his findings, suddenly huffed and marched back to his seat, tossing his yellow legal pad to the trial table. In vain, he objected to the testimony as improper under the rules governing rebuttal witnesses.

Later, Lieutenant Key cast doubt on Mr. Hurt's testimony that he fired with his left hand, even though he is right-handed, and that he was aiming for a wall above the crowd in the alley.

During his cross-examination, Mr. Miles shouted questions at the police lieutenant, wanting to know whether the lieutenant was accusing him of bribing witnesses. Judge Heller ordered Mr. Miles to back away from the witness.

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