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Murder suspect Blake freed

Leeander Jerome Blake -- one of two Annapolis teenagers accused in the brutal slaying of a Historic District resident two years ago -- left the Anne Arundel County jail a free man yesterday, the first-degree murder case against him in tatters because of police errors made hours after his arrest.

His release follows a series of court rulings throwing out statements that police say implicated the teenager in the killing of businessman Straughan Lee Griffin in front of his home in 2002.

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But Anne Arundel prosecutors hope the state attorney general's office will appeal the case to the Supreme Court on grounds that police did not violate the 19-year-old's constitutional rights by talking to him after he invoked his right to silence.

"It sickens me that this man gets to walk out of jail today," said Assistant State's Attorney Pamela Alban. "It's hard to explain what happened."

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Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. is "leaning toward" appealing the case to the Supreme Court, said his spokesman, Kevin Enright. That appeal would have to be filed by mid-September.

Blake's chief defense attorney, Kenneth W. Ravenell, said his client has maintained his innocence all along. "It's not a technicality, it's a judge applying the law," he said of the decisions in Blake's favor.

Griffin's mother, Virginia Griffin, said she was disappointed with Blake's release but has mixed feelings about an appeal because she and her family are ready to move on. She offered merciful words for Blake.

"I do hope he will make something wonderful of his life," she said in a telephone interview from her home in Portsmouth, Va. "You can't live with hate and bitterness forever."

Blake's appearance in Anne Arundel Circuit Court yesterday, where Judge Pamela L. North ordered his release, was little more than a formality. A few hours later, Blake left the Anne Arundel County Detention Center with little expression on his face, free without restrictions.

He did not speak, but one of his lawyers, Ivan J. Bates, said that Blake "wanted to move on with his life" and that his "thoughts and prayers are with the victim."

Straughan Lee Griffin was killed just before dusk Sept. 19, 2002, as he unloaded groceries in front of his home in the upscale Historic District of Annapolis.

He was shot in the head, robbed of the keys to his Jeep Grand Cherokee and run over by the stolen vehicle.

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Police charged Blake, then 17, and Terrence Tolbert, then 19, with murder, carjacking and related crimes.

A tangled case

The case against the two teenagers has taken a number of twists since their arrests in 2002.

Separate Anne Arundel County judges initially threw out both teenagers' statements to police, saying they were improperly obtained.

Police claimed the two defendants implicated each other in those statements.

Prosecutors appealed both decisions and eventually prevailed in Tolbert's case. He is scheduled to be tried in the fall on charges that include first-degree murder.

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But Blake's case took a more tangled route that has seen him in and out of court --and jail -- for the past two years.

After his pre-dawn arrest, Blake, in his underwear, was placed in a holding cell and handed charging documents by Detective William Johns that incorrectly said he faced the possibility of a death sentence, according to court testimony.

Blake did not want to talk to police and asked to see a lawyer. Because he was 17 at the time, he was not eligible for the death penalty.

Prosecutors argued that the documents were computer-generated and referred to the maximum possible penalty for the crime, not to the individual charged.

As Johns started to leave, Officer Curtis Reese turned to Blake and said, "I bet you want to talk now, huh?" according to Johns and Blake. Shocked and worried that Reese's question would violate Blake's rights, Johns loudly reprimanded Reese and said police could not talk to Blake, according to court testimony.

But 28 minutes after that, Blake asked Johns whether he could talk to the investigator, and made a statement.

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An Anne Arundel County Circuit judge agreed with Blake that his remarks were inadmissible in court.

Prosecutors appealed to the Court of Special Appeals, the state's second-highest, and won there. Blake then asked the state's highest court to take the case.

The Court of Appeals ruled in Blake's favor last month, saying Annapolis police violated his constitutional rights, and ordered his release.

And, under a quirk in state law, prosecutors cannot refile charges against Blake, now that they have appealed to the state's highest court and lost.

Miranda rights

In appealing to the Supreme Court, the state attorney general's office would argue that the Blake case raises questions about Miranda rights that have not been clearly answered by lower courts, said Gary Bair, solicitor general for Maryland.

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Bair said the office has not determined the fine points of a potential appeal but said he did not believe police actions in the case had violated Blake's Miranda rights.

Those rights refer to the standard warning police read to suspects, which begins: "You have the right to remain silent."

The Supreme Court has recently heard several cases related to Miranda rights, but Bair said those cases focused on different questions.

He said the state probably would not learn whether the Supreme Court would take the case until October or November.

"Whether they'll be interested in our case, you never know," he said. "They don't hear many cases."

Sun staff writer Molly Knight contributed to this article.


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