A city Circuit Court jury deliberated about 30 minutes yesterday before acquitting a repeat offender charged with brandishing a gun and slapping a priest during a church robbery in October.
Barry K. Brooks, 38, of the 1900 block of E. 31st St. was accused of pushing his way past a secretary at the Shrine of the Little Flower Roman Catholic Church in Northeast Baltimore and stealing $7,500. The jury acquitted him on six counts of armed robbery, assault, felony theft and two handgun charges stemming from the robbery.
Police describe Brooks as a career criminal who was once imprisoned for bank robbery. Court records also show that since 1985, Brooks has been charged with weapons possession and robbery at least three times, as well as with felony assault.
As Brooks was being escorted out of the courtroom, he began to cry and said, "I love you" to his girlfriend, Marian Roberson, 41, of Woodlawn.
"I'm very happy," Roberson said. "I praise Yahweh that he's free. Being a God-fearing man, he would never have robbed a church."
Brooks' public defender, Daniel Connell, told the jury in closing arguments that police arrested the wrong man and a key witness, the priest, the Rev. Michael J. Orchik, had been "led astray" when he identified Brooks as the robber. Connell said the verdict was reached by a "courageous jury."
Prosecutor Christopher Foudy said, "We put on the best case. At the end of the day, it's up to the 12 people of the jury of Baltimore City."
The robbery occurred in the church's rectory after morning Mass on Oct. 13, when witnesses said a man pretended to inquire about clothing donations and enrolling his children in school and then pulled out a handgun on a church secretary and demanded money.
In a phone interview, Orchik, a priest for 31 years, said he was disappointed with the verdict but not surprised.
Orchik testified Friday that the robber slapped him for taking too long to open the church's safe before making off with $7,500 in petty cash, rent money that nuns pay the parish and Sunday services collections.
He said the defense sought to undermine the eyewitnesses' identifications of Brooks throughout the trial. Orchik conceded that he was only "60 percent" certain he had identified the right suspect from mug shots, but his certainty grew after he saw Brooks in the courtroom Friday.
"I'm completely convinced ... that I correctly identified him," said Orchik, who was not in the courtroom yesterday.
In his closing arguments before the jury, Connell said Orchik - who had testified along with church secretary Patricia Jean Erdbring and others - told a "cockamamie story that's full of holes."
Connell argued that the investigation was "inept" and Brooks was "framed." He also noted that witnesses who had looked at the mug shots told police they were not 100 percent sure Brooks, the man they pointed out, was the perpetrator.
At one point, Connell held up the initial computer-generated sketch witnesses gave police.
"This is the guy who did it," he told the jury, pointing at the rendering. "This guy's still out there. He doesn't look anything like Barry Brooks."
One of the witnesses, he said, had implicated Brooks in a statement to police to get himself out of drug charges, but when the man took the stand Friday he recanted that statement.
"The police framed Barry Brooks," Connell said. "Priests are susceptible to the same deficiencies that we all have. They can be led astray. Cops led him astray."
Foudy, the prosecutor, called these "blind accusations" and said, "The police didn't even know who Barry Brooks was" until after he was identified by the man facing narcotics charges.
During Friday's proceedings, Brooks testified that he was home eating pancakes when the church was robbed. Brooks' landlord, a 78-year-old woman, testified and corroborated his alibi.
Brooks also testified that at 3 p.m. on the day of the robbery, he took a bus to Harrisburg, Pa., to visit a woman he met on the Internet.
Police did not find the gun used in the robbery.