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State drops charges in girl's killing


An article in yesterday's Anne Arundel County edition incorrectly reported the circumstances under which murder charges against two suspects in the slaying of JoAnne Valentine, a Pasadena nightclub owner, were dropped.

The charges were dropped after prosecutors learned that one of the suspects, Gilbert Griffin, was in jail at the time of the slaying.

The Sun regrets the error.

An Annapolis man accused of killing a 16-year-old girl outside a Crofton pool hall will be set free because two witnesses say he was in Virginia at the time of the March slaying.

Tierre Thomas Wallace, 19, of the 700 block of Newtown Drive, who had been charged in the death of Catherine E. Webster, was expected to be released from the Anne Arundel County Detention Center today after a bail hearing in Annapolis District Court, according to his lawyer, Gill Cochran.

The case is the second time this year that the Anne Arundel state's attorney's office has dropped charges against a murder suspect.

Ms. Webster was shot in the back of the head March 20 while riding in a 1988 Nissan 300 SX as it sped away from a gunman who had approached the car in an apparent carjacking attempt near Crofton Billiards in the 2100 block of Priest Bridge Drive.

The driver of the car, Robert Saunders, 19, was slightly wounded when a bullet grazed his right side, police said.

Mr. Wallace was charged with first-degree murder and assault with intent to murder April 4 after he was picked out of a photo lineup and another person told police he had sold Mr. Wallace a handgun identical to the one described by witnesses.

Anne Arundel County State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee dropped the charges in Annapolis District Court yesterday after a friend of the defendant and the friend's mother said Mr. Wallace was at their home in Springfield, Va., on the night of the slaying.

"I really believe I've got an innocent man here," said Mr. Cochran, a veteran Annapolis criminal defense lawyer.

Mr. Weathersbee issued a four-paragraph statement that announced the dismissal but declined further comment yesterday.

"Although Tierre Wallace continues to be a suspect, evidence has developed since his arrest which needs to be examined before taking this case any further or making any final decisions," the statement said.

Mr. Wallace still is to be tried this year on an unrelated theft case, court records show.

Ms. Webster's parents could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Kristin Riggin, a spokeswoman for Mr. Weathersbee, said the decision to drop the charges came after a meeting Friday with Mr. Weathersbee, Assistant State's Attorney Kathleen Rogers, who was assigned to the case, county police Lt. Harry Collier, head of the crimes against persons unit, and Detective Dean D'Camera, the primary investigator.

"If you've got one shot at a suspect, this is not the shot you want to take," Ms. Riggin said.

Mr. Cochran said yesterday that he remains convinced his client was charged because of "an overzealous police officer."

"I don't fault the state's attorney's office; I fault the county police. They kept an innocent man in jail for 80 days," Mr. Cochran said.

He said Marcus Russell, 20, and his mother, Deborah Russell Delgado, a flight attendant for 18 years, said Mr. Wallace was watching family videos with them in their home on the night of the killing.

L The police didn't want to hear any alibis, Mr. Cochran said.

"The cops weren't interested in hearing the facts. They had their guy, and once they had their guy, they had tunnel vision," he said.

Mr. Cochran said he got into a "near shoving match" with Detective D'Camera at the prosecutor's office the day the case was to go to the county grand jury for an indictment. The detective tried to prevent him from bringing Mrs. Delgado to Ms. Rogers, the prosecutor who was presenting the case to the grand jury, Mr. Cochran said.

The confrontation led Detective D'Camera to file a complaint about Mr. Cochran with the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission, but the complaint was promptly dismissed, according to records Mr. Cochran provided.

Yesterday, Lieutenant Collier referred questions to Mr. Weathersbee's office.

On March 30, charges were dropped against Gilbert Griffin and Edward McLeod, who had been arrested in the slaying of Arnold nightclub owner JoAnne Valentine, after defense lawyers proved that a key prosecution witness who placed the suspects at the

scene was in jail at the time of that slaying.

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