The Maryland Court of Appeals today unanimously reversed the murder convictions of a Wheaton man sentenced to death for killing an off-duty Prince George's County police officer and a convenience-store worker during an armed robbery.
The state's highest court overturned Kenneth James Lodowski's convictions in the June 1983 slayings, and ordered a new trial and sentencing procedure in the case.
The court ruled that a statement by Lodowski to Prince George's County police should not have been admitted into evidence because police violated Lodowski's constitutional right to counsel by refusing to let lawyers see him while they interrogated him.
Lodowski was convicted of fatally shooting Carlton X. Fletcher, 31, an off-duty police officer working as a security guard at the Goddard Mini Mart in Greenbelt, and Minh Phamdo, 20, the store's assistant manager.
Phamdo was shot as he left the store carrying $24,000 to put in a bank's night depository. Fletcher was shot as he sat in his marked police cruiser outside the store.
A codefendant, Kamel Ali Elfadl, was also convicted in both murders and sentenced to life in prison. Elfadl's convictions were overturned earlier on similar grounds by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, which ordered a new trial.
While reversing Lodowski's conviction, the court took the unusual step of ruling on several side issues, including the use of victim-impact statements at Lodowski's sentencing hearing, in order to provide guidance "on matters of important public concern."
A five-member majority said statements from victims' families can be considered when deciding whether to impose a death sentence. Judges Harry A. Cole and John C. Eldridge dissented.
In an emotional 47-page dissent, Cole said he understood the desire of "the victims of heinous crimes . . . to have a voice in the criminal justice process . . . . But the halls of justice should not be the forum by which their cries for vengeance should be heard."
In overturning the murder convictions, the Court of Appeals said that police had refused to allow two lawyers hired by Lodowski's mother to talk to him. While the lawyers were waiting, he signed a statement concerning his role in the robbery and double murder.
Although Lodowski also signed a statement waiving his right to see a lawyer, the Court of Appeals said this waiver was not done "voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently."
"I'm very pleased that the court has seen fit to agree with our position on this matter," said William C. Brennan, one of Lodowski's lawyers. Brennan said he "would assume that the police would study these opinions in the Lowdowski and Elfadl cases very carefully with a view to toward amending" their questioning procedures.
Assistant State's Attorney William Missouri said he could not comment because he had not seen the opinion.