The Baltimore Sun

Anne Arundel

Federal trial opens in Griffin case

Nearly five years after a brutal killing in Annapolis' quaint Historic District, Leeander Jerome Blake is facing a federal jury in the fatal carjacking that eluded state prosecution. Blake is likely to hear his incriminating 2002 statements used against him -- remarks that were at the center of a legal dispute in state courts -- as well as evidence that prosecutors have said they garnered since the original case in Anne Arundel County.

Prosecutors said in opening statements in U.S. District Court in Baltimore that Blake, now 22, confessed to pointing the victim out as a robbery target to his friend but denied that he was the shooter. His lawyer said the statement came after Annapolis police scared him in a scenario "right out of Hollywood."

Blake, then 17, was one of two youths charged in the Sept. 19, 2002, death of Straughan Lee Griffin, 51, a partner in a media company killed in front of his home. It was the first killing in his Annapolis neighborhood in two decades. Shot in the forehead, Griffin was then run over by the Jeep Grand Cherokee he had been unloading moments earlier.

Blake's neighbor, Terrence Tolbert, 19 at the time of the crime, was convicted of murder in 2005 by an Anne Arundel County jury and sentenced to life without parole plus 30 years.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge William M. Nickerson denied the defense's request to dismiss the case against Blake, rejecting the argument that prosecutors did not file the appropriate documents to try Blake as an adult. Prosecutors said the paperwork was unnecessary because Blake was an adult when charged in September last year.

Maryland section, Thursday


Election code might be revised

Aiming to avoid a repeat of the 2005 city election, when some voters weren't listed on precinct rolls and had difficulty casting votes, the Annapolis city council will take up a proposal to revise the election code and implement the use of provisional ballots.

The council also will consider loosening restrictions on absentee ballots.

Mayor Ellen O. Moyer, who introduced the bill at Monday night's council meeting, said the move to allow such ballots -- typically used when a voter's eligibility is in question -- will bring the city into compliance with the state and county.

"We don't have a provision for provisional ballots, and the county and state does," she said. "This just tightens the code and ensures that nobody is disenfranchised."

Provisional ballots are used to record votes when a person's name does not appear on a precinct's list of registered voters. They are used in jurisdictions across Maryland. The ballots aren't counted unless a voter's eligibility is later verified.

Anne Arundel section, Wednesday


Couple in sex case spared jail time

A Pasadena husband and wife who offered her sexual services on a well-known Web site while she was pregnant won't serve any jail time, an Anne Arundel County judge ruled.

Jesse Woodrow Cornwell III, 32, and Diana Carmine Cornwell, 35, will be able to raise their 2-week-old baby themselves after being handed a one-year suspended jail sentence and three years' unsupervised probation. Though prosecutors had urged incarceration, District Judge Joseph D. Legum decided against that because this was the first offense for the Cornwells.

Attorneys for the Cornwells said the couple took out an ad on Craigslist in March because an injury forced Jesse Cornwell out of work as a subcontractor and they needed money to care for their first child, a 2-year-old who has Down syndrome. The family received food stamps but did not qualify for other state assistance, the attorneys said.

Police, who frequently scour online classifieds sites for illegal solicitations, said the couple offered sex with a pregnant woman for $300.

As part of a prostitution sting, an undercover officer working with the vice unit responded to the ad and was greeted by Jesse Cornwell on April 2 at the family's home, where the couple were arrested.

Maryland section, Wednesday


Man, 28, gets life for rape, carjacking

A 28-year-old Kent Island man was sentenced to life in prison for raping a woman after a carjacking in May 2006 at City Dock in Annapolis.

Walter Jose Grey of Stevensville also was sentenced to a 30-year term for a separate carjacking of a 31-year-old woman that occurred less than two months after -- and within a few blocks of -- the first incident. That woman fled. The Sun does not disclose the names of victims of sexual assault crimes.

Prosecutors and the victims had asked Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Paul F. Harris Jr. to impose the life sentence.

"He is a predator," the judge said.

Maryland section, Wednesday


Ex-Mid testifies about sex videos

In tearful testimony, a former midshipman said that because of the close relationship he had with a Navy doctor, he waited several days before reporting videos that he says the doctor secretly shot of him and other midshipmen engaged in sex acts at the doctor's Annapolis home.

The accused officer, Cmdr. Kevin Ronan, "had been pretty good to all of us," said the former midshipman, who was dismissed from the Naval Academy for bad grades before the alleged discovery of the videos. His face reddened, and he clenched his jaw and dabbed his eyes with a balled-up tissue as he spoke.

"We realized he could face several years in prison, and for that reason it was a hard decision," the former midshipman said.

Ronan, who was a Naval Academy physician until last year, has been charged with conduct unbecoming an officer, violating a Maryland law against unauthorized prurient visual surveillance, and attempting to conceal or destroy evidence.

Monday's hearing at the Washington Navy Yard was held to determine whether Ronan should face court-martial. A decision is expected in about a month.

Maryland section, Tuesday

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