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Error frees city murder suspect

The Baltimore Sun

In a rare mistake, a city prosecutor inadvertently dropped murder charges against a man accused of assaulting a man and then setting his Midtown-Belvedere apartment on fire this month.

The suspect, Zukael T. Stephens, spent a weekend free while friends of the man he is accused of killing, Marcus Rogers, a transgender activist, held a memorial service Saturday night. Police detectives rearrested Stephens yesterday at his home near Randallstown.

On Thursday, a prosecutor dropped several charges against Stephens, 29, and he was released the next day, according to court documents and officials. Officials said they meant to drop only attempted-murder charges but mistakenly also dropped a murder charge, among others.

A police detective discovered that the man had been accidentally released, said a city state's attorney's office spokeswoman.

"We should've looked at the court file more thoroughly," said spokeswoman Margaret T. Burns. "It's an unfortunate thing, but we're very thankful that the defendant is back in custody."

Rogers, 26, was found alive, but seriously injured, in his apartment in the 1000 block of St. Paul St. He died several days later from injuries that an autopsy determined were from blunt force trauma, police charging documents show.

Burns blamed the mix-up on human and paperwork errors, and the high volume of cases prosecutors typically handle.

Stephens initially had been charged in an unserved warrant with attempted murder and other violent offenses, Burns said.

But then Rogers died Oct. 17. So when Stephens was arrested three days later, he was charged with reckless endangerment, malicious burning, first- and second-degree assault, first- and second-degree arson and first- and second-degree murder, charging documents show.

In most cases, the more serious charges typically show up first in charging documents, Burns said. But in Stephens' case, the charges of first- and second-degree murder were among the last to be listed.

The prosecutor allowed the case to be dismissed. "The prosecutor thought she was [dismissing] the attempted-murder charges," Burns said.

Electronic records for the District Court of Maryland show that after Stephens' charges were dropped, an order stating "Do Not Release" was included in his case history.

But the next entry states that the defendant was "released from commitment."

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