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Judge bars statements in Arundel murder trial

In another blow to prosecutors, an Anne Arundel County judge threw out yesterday many of the incriminating statements made by a second suspect in last fall's fatal carjacking in the Annapolis historic district.

Circuit Judge Ronald A. Silkworth said he would allow statements made by Terrence Tolbert, 20, during and immediately after a lie-detector test, but the judge said police should have reread him his Miranda rights once he had indicated involvement in "a robbery gone bad."

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The ruling means that when Tolbert goes on trial Sept. 23 on first-degree murder charges in the death of businessman Straughan Lee Griffin, 51, prosecutors won't be able to use his Oct. 25 comments made to an Annapolis detective or a written account of the crime that he gave police later that day.

"I don't believe the statement was voluntary," Silkworth said during his ruling.

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This marks the second time key evidence has been ruled inadmissible in the cases against two Annapolis residents accused of shooting Griffin in front of his Cumberland Court home and, as he lay dying, running him over as they drove off in his Jeep Cherokee.

The other suspect, Leeander Jerome Blake, 18, was released from jail after Judge Pamela L. North ruled in June that Annapolis police had violated his rights when questioning him. Prosecutors have appealed that decision.

Tolbert and Blake were arrested about one month after the killing Sept. 19 -- the first in two decades in the historic district.

A young Tolbert gained notoriety in 1991 when he was pulled from an electrical transformer by an Annapolis police officer. The then-8-year-old lost his right arm after the 13,000-volt shock.

More than a decade later, Tolbert's lawyer argued that police "psychologically coerced" statements from him during their investigation of Griffin's death.

The defense maintains that police tried to befriend Tolbert's mother and asked her to coax her son to submit to a lie-detector test. When he agreed Oct. 25, his mother drove him to the Maryland State Police barracks in Annapolis. Police did not tell him he was a suspect in the crime, officers have testified.

Following routine procedure for the test, officers read him his Miranda rights.

Maryland State Police Cpl. Lloyd Edward White Jr. testified at a hearing in July that he took Tolbert aside after the test and told him it had detected deception. Tolbert was quiet and then asked if the test had shown that he shot Griffin, White testified.

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"Why would you ask me a question like that?" the corporal said he replied.

Tolbert put his head down and then admitted he had "more involvement" with the carjacking than he had told police, White testified. Tolbert called it a "robbery gone bad," the corporal said.

White then told Tolbert not to say anything else and left the room to get Annapolis Police Detective William Johns.

Judge Silkworth said he would allow Tolbert's statements to White to be used in court because he believed that Tolbert made them voluntarily and at a time when he felt free to leave the police station.

But once White returned to the room with Johns, the judge said, Tolbert was no longer free to leave because he had just admitted to a part in the crime.

For that reason, the detectives should have read him his Miranda rights again, Silkworth ruled. He called the two circumstances "totally different."

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None of Tolbert's subsequent statements will be allowed at his trial.

Sun staff writer Andrea F. Siegel contributed to this article.


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