Judge tosses murder defendant's statements

The Baltimore Sun

Jurors in the capital murder case of a man accused of shooting two men - one fatally - outside a Woodlawn-area bar in July will hear few, if any, of the defendant's statements to detectives, a Baltimore County judge ruled yesterday.

Defense attorneys for the alleged gunman, Juvon C. Harris, argued that the statements were inadmissible because police did not properly advise him of his right to an attorney and because the interrogation was so relentless that his statements were involuntary.

Circuit Judge John O. Hennegan rejected both of those arguments in tossing out the statements. Instead, the judge ruled that the litany of evidence that homicide detectives Brian Edwards and Al Barton told the defendant they had against him during the interviews would unfairly prejudice the jury, according to court records and prosecutor John Cox.

The detectives questioned Harris on July 2, the day after Taavon Chambers was fatally shot and another man was wounded in the parking lot of the Windsor Inn. They questioned him again the next day, after a woman who was at the bar picked Harris out of a police lineup.

On both occasions, Harris repeatedly told the detectives that he was not responsible for the shootings, and variously that he didn't see anything or couldn't remember what happened, according to a DVD of the statements, which was played in court. Pressed to apologize for his actions, Harris acknowledged only that he was "sorry for what happened."

Defense attorney Gayle Robinson took issue with the interviews. In particular, she said she had never before seen detectives direct a suspect to strip naked while handcuffed to the wall of the interview room so that a crime lab officer could seize his clothing as evidence.

Prosecutor Kristin E. Blumer told the judge that the detectives had a job to do and did it without coercion. "They were trying to get a statement," she said. "There's no question about it."

The judge said prosecutors could play a redacted recording of the statements, editing out the detectives' summary of the evidence, which included video surveillance of the bar's parking lot.

Charged with first-degree murder, armed robbery and other crimes, Harris is scheduled to go to trial in October. Prosecutors are seeking a death sentence.

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