Cannot identify defendant as attacker, 3 tell court; Prosecution wraps up case in beating death


As the prosecution wrapped up its case yesterday against a Laurel teen-ager charged in the death of Salvadoran immigrant Gilberto Hernandez, attorneys for the defendant continued to attack the credibility of the state's witnesses.

In a deal struck with the Prince George's state's attorney's office last year, Gerald D. Culbreath, 16, David Burley, 20, Sharif A. Sinkler, 17, and Anthony Barclay, 17 -- who were originally charged in the killing -- agreed to testify against Cochise I. "Cody" Queen, 18, in exchange for immunity.

Yesterday, only one of the witnesses told a Prince George's County Circuit Court jury in Upper Marlboro that he was able to identify Queen as the person who attacked Hernandez shortly before midnight Sept. 4, 1998. The other three said they were unsure who might have knocked Hernandez to the ground and attacked him.

Queen is charged with first-degree murder and first- and second-degree assault. Two other teen-agers, Kelly Day Martin, 19, and Steven Darby, 17, have also been charged with murder and assault. They are being held at the Prince George's County Detention Center, and their trials are scheduled to begin next month.

Prosecutor Wesley Adams told the jury in opening statements Monday that Queen and six teen-agers confronted Hernandez and his brothers, Tomas and Juan, as they were returning from their jobs at the Four Seasons Buffet on U.S. 1 to the apartment they shared on Fourth Street in Laurel.

Adams said the teen-agers began chasing the three brothers, trying to steal Tomas Hernandez's bike. Adams said Tomas and Juan Hernandez managed to escape, but that Queen caught up with Gilberto Hernandez and knocked him to the ground. He was later joined by Martin and Darby, and all three kicked and beat Hernandez to death, Adams said.

Culbreath, one of the seven teen-agers who chased the Hernandez brothers, told the jury that he saw Queen tackle Hernandez. "I saw Cody run and hit Mr. Hernandez with his shoulders and knock him down," Culbreath said yesterday in Judge Alan Shepherd's courtroom. "And then he was bragging about what he did."

Sinkler, Burley and Barclay told the jury they were unsure who attacked Hernandez.

"I have no idea who hit that man [Hernandez]," Sinkler said. "I didn't see it."

Queen's attorneys, Steven Jacoby and Paul Christian, challenged Culbreath's testimony, saying that when the teen-ager was first interrogated by Laurel police, he gave police false information.

Christian said Culbreath told police that he saw Queen kick Hernandez, but yesterday, the youth said that he did not see the defendant kick the victim.

"If you made up a pack of lies, how do we know that you're telling the truth?" Christian asked Culbreath.

"Because the truth needs to be heard," Culbreath responded.

Jacoby and Christian say that Queen is the victim of mistaken identity, that their client never attacked Hernandez. Today, the defense will begin calling its witnesses, with the case expected to go to the jury later today or early tomorrow.

"We have faith in the judge and the jury," said the Rev. Brian Jordan, a Franciscan priest and spokesman for the Hernandez family, as he stood outside the courthouse with Gilberto Hernandez's two brothers and sister.

"The Hernandez family is still grieving over the loss of their brother, Gilberto Hernandez," Jordan said. "But we are still hoping and praying that in the end justice will prevail."

Pub Date: 10/06/99

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