D.C. Superior Court Judge Robert M. Scott refused yesterday to dismiss charges against any of the 10 young people accused of kidnaping, robbing and murdering Catherine L. Fuller, telling one defense attorney that the evidence against her client was overwhelming and pointedly arguing with other defense attorneys about the sufficiency of the evidence.
Scott's denial of the defense motions for acquittals came on the 13th day of the trial, in which government prosecutors rested their case after presenting videotaped statement of one of the defendants saying he was in the Northeast alley when Fuller was killed Oct. 1, 1984, but that he did not participate in her beating.
Dismissals of charges are routinely requested by defense attorneys at the close of the prosecution's case, and the presiding judge is required to review the evidence in the most favorable light for the government without deciding credibility of the evidence. But Scott's comments, made out of the hearing of the jury, seemed to surprise some court observers, and several of the defendants shook their heads at his comments.
Scott, known as a judge who does not mince words from the bench, reacted most strongly to a request that charges be dismissed against 20-year-old Levy Rouse. "If I've ever seen an overwhelming" sufficiency of evidence . . . go to the jury," it is in this case, Scott told Rouse's attorney, Lillian McEwen. Prosecutors have alleged that it was Rouse who thrust a pipe into Fuller's rectum, causing massive injuries.
"What, your client?" Judge Scott asked loudly after attorney Frederick Sullivan said there was insufficient evidence to continue prosecuting the case against his client, 20-year-old Timothy Catlett. "Do you want me to recite it all . . . ? The evidence is replete with his participation in the thing."
Defense attorneys had not expected Scott to dismiss any charges yesterday, but some of them had speculated that the defendant who stood the best chance for acquittal was 17-year-old Felicia Ruffin.
Only one prosecution witness, Harry Bennett, placed Ruffin in the abandoned Northeast garage where prosecutors say Fuller, 48, was beaten to death. Bennett, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the case, testified that Ruffin did not participate in the beating but that she received one of Fuller's rings.
The nine other defendants, all residents in Fuller's neighborhood, have been identified a number of times by various prosecution witnesses as being in the alley and garage when Fuller was killed.
"She was there at the scene . . . and she got a ring," said Judge Scott, reciting the eyewitness testimony to Ruffin's lawyer, William Seals.
Scott said receiving the ring, stolen property, would make Ruffin an "aider and abettor" in the robbery. A person can be convicted in the District of first-degree murder -- which carries a mandatory prison term of at least 20 years -- if he or she particpates in any way in a felony that leads to a death.
Earlier yesterday, the jury watched a television monitor play a videotape of a statement by defendant Clifton Yarborough. On the tape, the 17-year-old Yarborough told two police detectives in a nervous, rapid voice that he was at the edge of the alley when Fuller was beaten but that he did not assault her. He admitted on the videotape to receiving $2 from someone who had participated in the beating but said the $2 was not taken from Fuller.
The videotaped statement, edited to eliminate references to other defendants, was the most damaging evidence so far against Yarborough. Yarborough's attorney, Wendell Robinson, said in his opening statement that his client was studying at a girlfriend's house when Fuller was killed. The videotape shown yesterday contradicted that.
Yarborough told detectives he was standing at the edge of the alley during the beating -- about a "basketball court" length away -- and only later asked one of the participants for a "loan" of $2.
Yarborough's account of the assault, while sometimes hard to follow because of the heavy editing, corroborated several key prosecution contentions. A major discrepancy occurred over Yarborough's placement of the attack on Fuller with a pole. Prosecutors say that occurred in the garage. Yarborough said he was never in the garage and he saw the pole attack outside the garage.
Other prosecution witnesses have testified that Yarborough was in the garage fighting with Catlett over Fuller's coin purse.