Prosecutors may not use DNA evidence in the Daniel Scott Harney murder trial next week, a judge ruled yesterday, saying the state was too slow in providing test results and thus giving the defense a pretrial victory.
The DNA evidence may have linked blood stains found on Mr. Harney's car and a handgun found in the car to his slain wife, 41-year-old Shirley Scott Harney. The trial begins Monday.
"It's unreasonable for the state to put the defense and the court in a position to litigate a significant, complex issue three days before a trial," Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr. said.
The judge said he will consider permitting prosecutors to use the DNA evidence in the trial's rebuttal segment -- the portion that follows the defense case.
Senior Assistant State's Attorney Kathi Hill declined to say whether Judge Kane's ruling would affect the prosecution's case. But one of Mr. Harney's attorneys, Clarke F. Ahlers of Columbia, said the ruling could have far-reaching implications.
"I think its effect will be to put the state on notice to have their homework done on time in other cases," Mr. Ahlers said.
"I think [the ruling] will help focus the trial where it needs to be focused -- the defense issues."
Mr. Harney, 40, is charged with first-degree murder in the Dec. 26 slaying of his estranged wife at her Ellicott City home. He also is charged with the attempted murder of his wife's boyfriend, William A. Helmbold, 45, of Woodlawn, who was shot in the arm.
A financial administrator from Owings Mills, Mr. Harney was arrested in Charlotte, N.C., within minutes of the case being featured on the national television show "America's Most Wanted." His two young sons were with him.
He could be sentenced to life in prison if he is convicted.
Prosecutors are expected to argue that Mr. Harney plotted the slaying by pointing to evidence that he bought a gun 12 days before the incident and made hotel reservations in Florida for Dec. 28.
Mr. Harney's attorneys are expected to argue that he went to his wife's home to confirm his suspicions that she was having a relationship with another man.
At yesterday's hearing on the admissibility of the DNA evidence, Mr. Ahlers said that the evidence should be prohibited permanently because prosecutors provided him with DNA reports so late that he was unable to prepare for yesterday's hearing. He noted that he did not get one report until 23 hours before the hearing.
"I don't think I've been intentionally ambushed," Mr. Ahlers said, adding that he had started asking for the prosecution's evidence in February. "But I believe all of that is the fault of the state."
Ms. Hill said prosecutors did not learn until mid-May that the Maryland State Police laboratory, where blood samples were analyzed, would not finish the DNA tests for two more months. She said prosecutors kept the defense apprised of the status of the tests.
Senior Assistant State's Attorney Joseph Murtha added that prosecutors did not ask another lab to do the tests because the FBI would have taken even longer and a private facility would have cost too much.
"The state has not attempted to drag its feet to get an advantage over the defendant," Mr. Murtha said.
Also at yesterday's hearing, defense attorneys lost their bid to prevent prosecutors from referring to "America's Most Wanted" during the trial. The defense contended that the show's title would bias jurors against Mr. Harney.
But Ms. Hill said prosecutors should not be asked to steer clear of the name -- because it is a fact difficult to avoid.
"It just is what it is," she said.