Prosecutors urge judge not to overturn verdict in 1984 murder

Prosecutors defended their office’s handling of a high-profile 1984 murder case Monday, urging a judge not to overturn convictions in the case or grant new trials to the men still behind bars.

Defense attorneys for the eight men found guilty in the murder of Catherine Fuller, a 48-year-old wife and mother, have argued over three weeks that their clients were falsely accused, prosecutors mishandled the case and authorities coerced false statements from witnesses in the 1985 trial.

During closing arguments Monday before D.C. Superior Court Judge Frederick Weisberg, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kacie Weston acknowledged that prosecutors kept evidence from defense attorneys but said that evidence would not have resulted in acquittals for the defendants.

“These men and others killed, robbed and beat Mrs. Fuller,” Weston said. “They couldn’t accept responsibility in 1984, and they are not accepting responsibility now.”

Fuller’s body was discovered in a garage in an alley near the H Street NE corridor; she had been beaten and robbed. Ten people between the ages of 16 and 21 were charged in the case, and eight were convicted and sentenced to between 35 years and life in prison.


Catherine Fuller was murdered in a garage on 9th Street, NE. (Ellsworth J. Davis/THE WASHINGTON POST)

Attorneys for the eight have petitioned Weisberg to reexamine the case. They allege that prosecutors withheld crucial evidence, including the names of three other possible suspects.

Since the trial, four people have told defense attorneys that their previous statements were coerced and that detectives threatened and beat them into testifying against their friends. Detectives and prosecutors denied the allegations, and Weston said Monday that the four seek to ease their consciences.

In his own closing argument, defense attorney Rob Carey testified that prosecutors and detectives refused to believe that anyone other than a group of friends — known at the time as the Eighth and H Crew — was involved in Fuller’s killing.

But based on medical evidence showing that Fuller had a limited number of bruises to one side of her body, Carey said, it was more likely that one or two attackers were involved — probably people who were not charged and whose names were not provided to defense attorneys before the 1985 trial.

“There’s a lot of contamination in this case,” Carey said.

Weisberg is expected to begin reviewing the case Tuesday after closing arguments conclude. He could return a decision by midsummer.

The eight convicted were Kelvin Smith, Steven L. Webb, Levy Rouse, Clifton Yarborough, Timothy Catlett, Russell Overton and brothers Charles and Christopher Turner.

Christopher Turner was released in 2010. Webb died in prison. The rest remain incarcerated.

Keith Alexander covers crime, specifically D.C. Superior Court cases for The Washington Post. He has covered dozens of crime stories from Banita Jacks, the Washington woman charged with killing her four daughters, to the murder trial of slain federal intern Chandra Levy.
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