Two men sentenced to more than 100 years each for the killing of a witness will receive new trials after a Court of Specials Appeals decision reversed their convictions this month.
Derius Duncan, 27, and Clifford Butler, 25, were both convicted of first-degree murder of Ronald Givens in 2015. But in an opinion issued on Feb. 2, the appeals court wrote that they should receive new trials because information was unfairly used against them from a proffer agreement Butler had made during the investigation.
Prosecutors said Givens had witnessed Baltimore police arrest Duncan on drug and gun charges. They said Butler and Duncan tried to bribe Givens to lie to authorities and then plotted his murder when he refused.
Givens, 55, was found fatally shot on his front lawn in Gwynn Oak on Oct. 4, 2011.
During the investigation, Butler spoke to the state during a proffer session and gave information that was later determined to be false, prosecutors said.
By lying, the state argued, he had voided the terms of the agreement and prosecutors could use any statements he made during the session against him.
But Butler's attorney argued that he had been given a "fresh start" at a second proffer session in exchange for useful information and that any lies he had told during the first session would be forgiven.
A circuit judge ruled in the prosecution's favor, finding that Butler had breached the proffer agreement by lying during the first session.
The Court of Special Appeals disagreed. It found that "a reasonable person in Butler's circumstances" would have thought that re-signing the proffer agreement, and speaking truthfully during the second session, would override any lies he might have told during the first.
In the appeal, defense attorneys also raised concerns that prosecutors unfairly used a "non-testifying co-defendant's confession during trial that implicated" Duncan.
Breaking News Alerts
The appeals court agreed with the defendants. Because the two men were tried together, Duncan's attorneys could not call Butler to the stand and question Butler's incriminating statements against Duncan.
Then-Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah was a special prosecutor in the case. A spokeswoman for the Maryland Attorney General's Office did not respond for a request for comment.
The state has 45 days after the opinion to request the Court of Appeals to take the case.
Duncan's attorney, Thomas Donnelly, said he had not spoken to his client since the opinion was released and declined to comment on the case. Butler's attorney was unavailable for comment.
Givens' family could not be reached for comment.