Curtis Aden Jamison took the witness stand in his own defense yesterday, denying allegations that he killed 15-year-old Tara Allison Gladden of Columbia and contradicting testimony from key prosecution witnesses.
One prosecution witness, a 16-year-old Baltimore girl, had testified that Jamison told her he planned to "get rid of" Miss Gladden the day before she vanished.
However, Jamison testified that he never spoke to the girl that day.
Recordings of telephone conversations and meetings between Jamison and the Baltimore girl -- introduced as prosecution evidence last week -- implicate Jamison in Miss Gladden's 1993 slaying.
"If they knew who killed Tara, they would have arrested me by now," Jamison said during a taped meeting with the girl at Westview Mall in Catonsville.
Meanwhile, defense attorneys used Jamison's testimony to buttress their assertions that state medical examiners did not have the grounds to label Miss Gladden's death a homicide and that she might have committed suicide.
Jamison testified that Miss Gladden told him that she had once tried to kill herself.
"I told her not to do it," Jamison said. "I told her that I loved her."
The Howard Circuit Court trial for the 30-year-old Baltimore man is expected to end today with closing arguments from prosecutors and defense attorneys.
Jamison, already serving a 20-year sentence for having sexual relations with the Baltimore girl and a second underage girl, could be sentenced to life in prison without chance of parole if convicted of first-degree murder.
Prosecutors contend that Jamison killed Miss Gladden so he could beat criminal charges filed against him over their sexual relationship. Those charges were dropped after the girl's death, but he was indicted in her death after a 17-month police investigation.
Miss Gladden's decomposed body was found in a culvert under Little Patuxent Parkway, about a half-mile from her Town Center home, on Aug. 17, 1993, after police and her family mounted a widespread search.
Jamison, who acknowledged his relationships with Miss Gladden and the Baltimore girl, testified that he last talked with Miss Gladden on July 16, 1993 -- six days before she disappeared.
He testified that Miss Gladden called him from the airport in Houston to tell him she was on her way home from a vacation in California, and that he made plans to call her later that day.
But when he called, he learned that the Gladden family's telephone had been disconnected and he could not reach her, Jamison testified.
Jamison contradicted testimony from the Baltimore girl, saying he never talked to her on July 21 or July 22, 1993.
The girl testified last week that Jamison told her on July 21 that he intended to kill Miss Gladden to prevent her from testifying against him.
The girl said he then called her the next day, telling her, "It's done."
But Jamison testified that his relationship with the girl had cooled and that he stopped talking to her until Aug. 24, 1993 -- the day the girl started calling him and recording their conversations for police investigators.
Jamison also testified that police asked him to help find the girl, who investigators said had run away. He said police told him the girl had information about Miss Gladden's death.
Jamison said he thought it was "suspicious" that the girl would call him to talk about Miss Gladden's death and an investigator, Detective Frank Lilly, later would call him to see if he had any information on the girl's whereabouts.
Detective Lilly, a rebuttal witness for prosecutors, testified that police had no such arrangement with Jamison.
He said that he and Jamison spoke only once about the girl and that Jamison had called him.
In other testimony yesterday, Dr. John Adams testified for the defense that Miss Gladden's body was too decomposed for state medical examiners to rule her death a homicide.
Dr. Adams, a Towson consultant who specializes in forensic pathology, said Miss Gladden could have committed suicide or died of natural causes.
Dr. Margarita Korell, an assistant medical examiner who performed Miss Gladden's autopsy, defended her findings that Miss Gladden died from "probable" asphyxiation.
While acknowledging that the body's condition made the autopsy difficult, Dr. Korell said she considered the circumstances surrounding Miss Gladden's death to help reach her ruling.
"The way a young girl is found in the middle of a drainage ditch that's why I came to the conclusion I did," she said.