Prince George's County prosecutors, as expected, dropped murder and attempted murder charges yesterday against former college football star Derrick Fenner, but his lawyer said that the initial handling of the case by Hyattsville police may have endangered Fenner.
In dropping the charges, prosecutors said they had "insufficient evidence at this time to go forward." The initial investigation was handled by Hyattsville police, but county police later became involved and found that Fenner was not at the scene of the May 23 shooting rampage at the Kirkwood Apartments.
Fenner, a former standout running back at the University of North Carolina, still faces unrelated misdemeanor drug and weapons charges. He said yesterday that he would discuss his athletic future at a news conference this morning.
After a brief court hearing yesterday, Fred R. Joseph, one of Fenner's lawyers, said that Hyattsville officers' unusually detailed charging document -- in which investigators said Fenner gave detectives the names of four men involved in the apartment complex shooting -- was not only bad police work but also untrue.
"Derrick has not in any way given information to police pertaining to the codefendants in this case," Joseph said. "It appears that they and others wanted to finger Derrick as the one who was providing information to police when that was not the case at all.
"One who is cynical might assume that there was an effort to pin Derrick to the wall on the charge."
All four men named in the charging document, which is part of the court's record, eventually were charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder, conspiracy and weapons offenses stemming from the shootout in May that left one man dead. Two of the four men also have been charged with first-degree murder in the July slaying of a potential prosecution witness in the case, James (Pops) Williams, 50, of Southeast Washington.
Joseph, in response to a question about the Williams slaying, said he is "always concerned when my client is in some danger." He stressed that Fenner had made no deals with prosecutors and does not expect to testify in the trials of any of his former codefendants.
Hyattsville Police Chief Robert Perry declined to comment yesterday about the investigation in general or about Joseph's comments, saying that the state's attorney is handling the matter.
Fenner, 20, was indicted in June on charges of slaying Marcellus Leach, 19, who died of a gunshot wound to the head, and of attempting to kill a 17-year-old youth during a May 23 shootout at the Kirkwood Apartments, 2717 Nicholson St., Hyattsville.
Two of the five other men -- Tyrone Davis and Lorenzo Hazel -- have been charged with first-degree murder in Williams' death. Police said Davis, Hazel and a third man shot Williams in the head in July because he had information about their involvement in the Kirkwood shootings.
When Fenner was charged in early June, law enforcement sources have said, police had two witnesses who placed Fenner with the small gang of men who were shooting in a courtyard of the apartment complex, and was able to get from Fenner the names of people involved in the shootings. In addition, the sources said, Fenner initially lied to detectives about his whereabouts during the time of the incident.
But Fenner's lawyers dispute that Fenner ever lied to Hyattsville police.
"Derrick, from the very beginning, gave police the names of witnesses who could show that he was not present at the murder scene," Joseph said. "He did not lie to police, he could not remember the exact times and places where he was. But it was extremely troublesome to me that there was no follow-up from Hyattsville police on that."
After Fenner was indicted in July, according to prosecutors, county police received information from other witnesses that uncovered "substantial evidence to indicate that Fenner" was not at the apartment complex when the shootings occurred.
The dismissal yesterday leaves Fenner facing misdemeanor charges of cocaine possession and transporting a handgun stemming from a separate incident. In April, a county officer stopped Fenner and found 25 plastic bags containing traces of cocaine in his jacket and a .38-caliber handgun in his car. That trial is scheduled Jan. 25.
Fenner, a graduate of Oxon Hill High School, was declared academically ineligible at the University of North Carolina last December.