A Howard County Circuit judge threw out criminal charges yesterday against a Columbia man accused of wielding an assault rifle in the robbery of a Wilde Lake supermarket early last year.
Judge Lenore R. Gelfman ruled that evidence presented didn't support continuing the trial. She then acquitted Armistead D. Myers, 26, of armed robbery, robbery, assault and other charges in the hold-up Jan. 12, 1999, of the Giant Food store in the 10400 block of Twin Rivers Road.
Prosecutors had finished presenting their case when Gelfman ruled on a defense request to dismiss the charges against Myers. Gelfman ruled that prosecutors did not present enough evidence independent of a witness who participated in the crime and was granted immunity for her testimony.
Prosecutors called two Giant employees who could not positively identify Myers.
Another witness testified that he sold an AK-47 in November 1998 to a man as another stood behind him. The witness told police that Myers was the man standing behind the buyer. But that witness could not identify Myers in court Monday.
Myers' lawyer, Michael D. Montemarano, called the case a "prosecution by profile" because the Giant employees could only give general descriptions of the robbers.
Because the state's main witness, Angela M. Watkins, was granted immunity for her testimony against Myers and a co-defendant, prosecutors had to present other evidence to corroborate her statements.
Gelfman ruled that they did not meet that burden, dismissed the charges and sent jurors home.
"I find that as a matter of law that there is insufficient evidence to support the testimony of Angela Watkins," Gelfman said.
Prosecutors said they disagreed with Gelfman's decision.
"We think we got the right person," Assistant State's Attorney Keith Cave said. "We disagree with the judge, but we respect her opinion."
About 11 p.m. Jan. 12, 1999, two people entered the Giant. One was wearing a ski mask and black clothing and carrying an AK-47. Prosecutors alleged that robber was Myers.
The second robber wore an orange and black jacket. Cave said that as the robber with the AK-47 ordered customers and employees to the floor, the other robber kicked open the door to an office and removed cash from the store's safe.
The robbers then drove away in a red Honda Passport.
The first break in the case came 18 days later, when Anne Arundel County police found an AK-47 in a stolen car. They searched the area near the car and found Watkins lying in a patch of woods, Cave said.
Under a grant of immunity, Watkins testified that she helped plan the robbery with Myers and another man, Duane Curtis, Cave said. She testified that Myers and Curtis picked her up in Baltimore and drove to the Giant and that she cased the supermarket an hour before the robbery and told the men it was clear, Cave said.
The men then dropped off Watkins at her relative's home, returned and robbed the supermarket, Cave said.
Montemarano said Watkins could have played more of a role in the crime as the robber who took the cash from Giant's safe. But prosecutors allege that robber was Curtis, who is scheduled for trial May 30.
After Gelfman's ruling, Myers was led away in handcuffs. He is serving a three-year prison term on a drug distribution conviction.