The state's highest court has ordered a retrial for two men convicted in the 2007 killing of a teenager whose burning body was found in a wooded area of Pikesville, saying that the Baltimore County detective who testified on cellphone evidence in the case was not qualified as an expert on such data.
Prosecutors told jurors in the trial of Joseph William Payne and Jason Bond that cellphone tower records placed the men near the scene where 17-year-old Glen Stewart's body was found in the woods at Villa Nova and Queen Anne roads in August 2007. Payne and Bond, who were among four defendants in the case, were convicted of charges including first-degree murder and kidnapping.
In a decision issued Thursday, the Maryland Court of Appeals agreed with the men's defense attorneys, finding that the detective should have been qualified as an expert witness on cellphone records before testifying. In court, such a witness must answer questions to show he or she possesses the experience or training to form an expert opinion.
The detective testified that on the night of the killing, the men's cellphones connected to cell towers that were within a few miles of the crime scene. Prosecutors told jurors that the evidence pointed to the men's guilt, saying it proved that both men were near the location of the killing that night even though they lived in Baltimore.
Baltimore County Deputy State's Attorney John Cox said prosecutors planned to retry the men.
The state had maintained that information provided by the detective did not require an expert witness to explain to the jury.
"It was certainly our position, before the Court of Appeals told us we were wrong, that that's not something that required expertise — that it was just an interpretation of records that were already admitted into evidence," Cox said.
A spokeswoman for the county police said officials there are reviewing the opinion, but declined to comment further.
Cellphone tower evidence has become increasingly important in criminal cases, said Baltimore attorney William R. Buie III, who is not involved in the case but practices criminal law in the Baltimore region.
"In the new electronic age, you are where your cellphone says you are," Buie said.
The appeals decision could have fiscal implications for prosecutors in Maryland who would need to have experts from cellphone companies — rather than local detectives — testify in their cases, Buie said.
"It's a budget concern because it's expensive to fly people in" to testify, he said, recalling a recent case in Howard County where prosecutors flew in a cellphone company expert from the Midwest.