Friends of an Annapolis man who was fatally shot in the city's historic district said yesterday they were stunned that charges had been dropped against one of his alleged killers.
Leeander J. Blake, 18, had been accused of participating in the carjacking of Straughan Lee Griffin, 51, in which Griffin was shot and then run over in front of his home in September 2002.
But Blake will soon be set free because of a ruling Wednesday by the Maryland Court of Appeals. The court rejected a pretrial appeal by prosecutors, who were seeking to use as evidence a statement Blake gave to investigators after his arrest. The trial judge had ruled the statement inadmissible.
That appellate ruling triggered an unusual provision in Maryland law: Because prosecutors lost the pretrial appeal, they were required to drop the charges against Blake and can never prosecute him in the carjacking case.
"I don't know who's to blame. I don't know if there is anyone to blame," said Greg Gerner, a business partner and friend of Griffin. "I just know that to have this as the outcome is sad and really unfortunate."
Griffin was killed outside his home on a quaint street near the U.S. Naval Academy. The brutal killing shocked a city where just three other homicides occurred that year. No one had been slain in the downtown historic district since the 1960s.
More than a month after the crime, police arrested Blake and another man, Terrence Tolbert, then 19, who were neighbors in an Annapolis public housing complex. The appellate ruling on Blake does not affect the case against Tolbert. He is scheduled to go to trial this month.
Court documents say Blake, then 17, was arrested in the early morning and taken to Annapolis police headquarters in his boxer shorts and a T-shirt. Blake told the lead detective, William Johns, that he would not speak without a lawyer present.
Before a lawyer arrived, Johns returned to Blake's holding cell and presented him with a statement of the charges against him. These papers said Blake faced the death penalty, according to court documents, though he was actually too young to be considered for capital punishment.
As Blake held the papers, another officer made a brief remark that eventually undid the prosecution's case. "I bet you want to talk now, huh?" Officer Curtis Reese said.
Soon afterward, Blake asked to talk with detectives. He made a statement in which he admitted being at the scene of the crime but said Tolbert shot Griffin, according to Blake's attorney and an Annapolis police spokesman.
Blake's attorney asked to have the statement suppressed, saying Reese's remark constituted an interrogation -- which is prohibited after a suspect has asserted his right to an attorney.
An Anne Arundel County Circuit Court judge agreed with Blake. State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee said he then faced a difficult choice: If he appealed the ruling and did not prevail, the case would be lost.
Weathersbee said yesterday that he took the gamble because the other evidence against Blake was "skimpy."
On Wednesday, the Court of Appeals sided with the defense, ruling that Reese's remark had tainted the statements Blake made later.
This outcome was met with frustration by Anne Arundel prosecutors and city police, who said they believed Blake was involved in Griffin's killing.
"He can say, 'I got away with murder,' " Weathersbee lamented yesterday.
Weathersbee said he hopes that the General Assembly will strike the section of the law that makes a prosecutor's appeal an all-or-nothing gamble.
Kenneth W. Ravenell, an attorney for Blake, said the dismissal was a direct result of misconduct by Reese.
"Whenever the defendant wins on a constitutional issue, they say, 'Well, it's a technicality,' " Ravenell said. "I've never found anything technical about the Constitution."
Reese resigned from the Annapolis force during an internal investigation of the incident, a police spokesman said yesterday.