A young woman friend of one of the 10 young people charged with robbing and killing Catherine L. Fuller testified yesterday she was told Fuller was assaulted with a pole because "she wasn't acting right" while being attacked.
Kaye Porter told a D.C. Superior Court jury that she had heard "a lot of rumors" about Fuller's death, so one evening she asked 20-year-old Timothy Catlett, also known as "Snot Rag," about his involvement.
"We was talking and I asked 'Snot Rag' why did he do that to the lady," Porter said in a trembling voice, describing their conversation outside a neighborhood library. "He said he didn't do nothing to her; that all he did was kick her. He said that somebody else stuck the pole up her."
Porter said she then asked Catlett, whom she had seen daily for a year, why "someone stuck the pole" into Fuller's rectum.
"He said, 'Because she wasn't acting right,' " Porter said.
Prosecutors have said the 48-year-old mother of six was killed on Oct. 1, 1984, in an abandoned garage near Eighth and H streets NE when a gang of young people tried to steal her coin purse. And in what one prosecutor called a "gratuitous infliction of pain," a pole was thrust into her rectum, causing massive injuries.
Also yesterday, Judge Robert M. Scott said he had decided not to allow the jury to see a police videotaped statement made by defendant Clifton Yarborough, 17, but would allow prosecutors to read parts of the statement to the jury. Yarborough and his lawyer, Wendell Robinson, smiled when Scott announced his decision, but later Robinson acknowledged that the statement still represented a significant obstacle.
"But could you imagine someone looking at a television. They would believe everything Clifton said," Robinson said, rushing out of the courtroom. Robinson said he planned to tell the jury that Yarborough had made the statement under pressure from police and that it was not true. "The impact is not the same when it is read."
Following his arrest, Yarborough told police in a detailed taped statement that he had witnessed Fuller's beating in a Northeast alley but had not participated. Yarborough told police that he had received $2 from one of the accused immediately after the beating but denied the money had come from Fuller's coin purse.
In making his decision, Judge Scott told prosecutors the tape "doesn't make sense" in its present edited form and that there are so many time lapses -- "gaps, gaps, gaps" -- where material has been cut that the statement is "pathetic." Scott said he would reconsider his decision if the tape is reedited. Prosecutors removed from the tape references to other defendants because these defendants would not be able to cross-examine Yarborough if Yarborough did not take the witness stand. The ability to cross-examine is one of the primary rights of an accused person.
Robinson said yesterday he planned to proceed with the alibi defense he promised the jury in his opening statement, despite the testimony of several witnesses identifying Yarborough as a participant in Fuller's robbery and beating. Yarborough, Robinson said in the opening statement, was at his girlfriend's house at the time of the attack.
Catlett's lawyer, Frederick Sullivan, tried during cross-examination of Kaye Porter to show that Catlett's statement to Porter may have been a flippant remark. Porter, Sullivan said, had asked Catlett about his involvement all day, and when he finally said something, it occurred while he was trying to talk to another girl.
"He was still trying to talk to her and you were keeping at him about what had happened to the lady," said Sullivan. "And finally, to get rid of you, he said that -- something about kicking the lady to get you away from him."