Ex-Officer's Trial Hangs On What Jury Hears
Monday, February 11, 2008
When a jury sits down this week to consider the murder case against Keith A. Washington, there are certain things they may never learn about the Prince George's County homeland security official accused of shooting two unarmed furniture delivery men.
Evidence about a psychiatrist's report in 1995 that said Washington, then a police officer, had "fleeting homicidal and suicidal thoughts" and "fits of internal rage" will not be admitted, a judge has ruled. Allegations that Washington used excessive force during his more than 16 years as an officer, including two incidents that led two lawsuits, will probably not be mentioned, except to rebut other evidence, legal experts said.
But the jury will hear that Robert White, the surviving deliveryman and chief witness against Washington, has a criminal record that includes first-degree burglary, grand larceny and receiving stolen goods, Circuit Judge Michael P. Whalen has decided.
The rules of evidence, which weigh relevance against possible prejudice, could complicate what legal experts say is already a difficult task for prosecutors: Trying to convict a law enforcement officer who says he fired in self-defense in his own home.
"It does complicate matters for the state's case in chief," the portion of the trial when the prosecution presents its evidence, said Abraham Dash, a criminal law professor at the University of Maryland School of Law and former federal prosecutor.
"But the defense has to be very careful, too," he said. "I don't see how the defense can avoid putting Washington on the stand. That can open a lot of problems."
As jury selection begins today, Washington's attorneys say they are confident that testimony will support his version of the Jan. 24, 2007, shootings.
"We expect the evidence to show that Mr. Washington defended himself and his family while under attack in his home and that the story being told by the other side simply isn't true," defense attorney Michael Starr said in an interview. "We ask that everyone keep an open mind until Mr. Washington's side of the story has been presented in court."
State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey (D) declined to comment on the trial or the evidence the prosecution will present. Court papers do not say what forensic evidence the state has collected or what prosecutors believe it shows.
Washington, 46, is charged with second-degree murder, attempted second-degree murder and other crimes in connection with the shootings at his home in Accokeek.
White, 37, has told police that Washington was combative almost from the moment the movers arrived at his home, and that Washington fired without provocation after ordering the men to leave. White's co-worker, Brandon Clark, 22, died nine days later.
Washington, who retired from the police department as a corporal several months ago, has told reporters he fired only after the workers entered his 6-year-old daughter's bedroom and attacked him when he ordered them to leave.