The D.C. Court of Appeals ordered yesterday that a suspect in a murder case submit to surgery for the removal from his body of three bullets police want to test to determine whether they can link him to a fatal shooting three weeks ago in Bethesda.
Lawyers for the 29-year-old Washington suspect, Jackie Hughes, had attempted to block efforts of the U.S. Attorney's Office to remove the slugs.
Hughes was charged earlier this month with the murder of Richard Edwards, manager of Bish Thompson's seafood restaurant. Lawyers for Hughes argued last week before the appeals court that their client's constitutional rights would be violated if doctors were permitted to remove the bullets without Hughes' permission.
Appeals Court Judge Stanley S. Harris said there was no "legal impediment, constitutional or otherwise" to negate an order by a Superior Court judge to remove the bullets.
Hughes was arrested shortly after the shooting of Edwards, which occurred in view of lunch-hour crowds walking along Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Bethesda on March 2. Edwards, 32, of Silver Spring was carrying restaurant receipts to a nearby bank at the time. As he fell to the ground, Edwards fired several shots from a .25-caliber revolver at his assailant.
Shortly after the shooting, Hughes was admitted to the Veterans Hospital in the District with several superficial gunshot wounds. He was arrested and charged. Hughes, who is recovering, according to one of his attorneys, refused to permit doctors to remove the slugs, which are lodged just under the skin in his right side and hip.
"[Inability to test] these bullets would seriously cripple the prosecution of this case . . . ," Assistant U.S. Attorney William J. Birney argued before the court last week.
In his opinion, in which he was joined by Judge Catherine B. Kelly, Harris wrote that "removal of the presumed bullets from under [Hughes'] skin would be a minor surgical procedure involving virturally no risks." The opinion grants the U.S. attorney's request for a search warrant to proceed with the medical procedure.
Hughes' attorney, William J. Mertens, declined comment on the court's ruling. He previously had argued that operating on a defendent to remove bullets was different from searching a house or a car, for which a search warrant is also needed.
Judge Julia Cooper Mack dissented from the court's opinion, called "the surgical exploration and extraction" of the bullets "from the body of a nonconsenting suspect . . . an unreasonable search and seizure" under the Constitution.
According to the court's order, the bullets will be turned over to the D.C. police department Hughes also was ordered not to tamper with or dispose of the bullets prior to the operation.