State rests in Trial of Three Officers Accused of Kidnapping, Misconduct

April 28, 2011

The state has rested its case in the trial of three Baltimore police officers accused of kidnapping and misconduct, State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein’s first as the city’s top prosecutor.

Defense attorneys for Tyrone S. Francis, Gregory Hellen and Milton Smith III were denied a motion for acquittal after arguing that the case had been improperly charged and that the state had failed to produce evidence of a crime.

“Your honor, it’s time for Greg Hellen to go home,” his attorney, David Irwin told Circuit Court Judge Timothy J. Doory. Attorney Michael Belsky said the case was “simply not properly charged” and that there was no evidence of kidnapping, assault or misconduct. Doory said there was sufficient evidence to present the case to a jury, which he said was a “low hurdle.”

The defense team will now begin presenting its witnesses, including at least one of the officers. Before the trial began, the attorneys said their presentation could take as long as two weeks.

The officers are accused of picking up two West Baltimore teens in May 2009 and driving them far from their homes and abandoning them. One teen, Michael B. Johnson Jr., was left in a Howard County park with no shoes and no cell phone, prosecutors say.

“The record is replete with evidence that supports these charges,” assistant state’s attorney Michelle Martin said in asking Doory to deny the motion for acquittal.

The defense contends that the teens were giving confidential information to the detectives, who conducted high-level drug investigations, and that the teens wanted to cover their tracks out of fear of being labeled snitches.

Both victims were shaky on the stand, and Johnson admitted that he was not truthful when he called 911 and said the officers had beaten him up. Defense attorneys ripped several of the state’s witnesses for inconsistencies in their statements, and has suggested that they colluded with each other and Bernstein to get their stories straight.

The final witness for the state Thursday was Maj. John Hess, who oversees the police department’s Violent Crimes Impact Section. The officers have claimed that they were gathering information in the investigation of a violent West Baltimore drug dealer – was was charged by federal prosecutors last year – but Hess said he was not aware that the officers were working that case that night.

“Are you aware of any leads that were developed” as a result of their interaction with the teens, Bernstein asked Hess. “I’m not aware of any,” Hess said.

Doory interjected, asking Hess what officers were supposed to do when they gain information in a case. Hess said it must be documented in case folders and forms.

Defense attorney Kenneth Ravenell noted that the officers were suspended the day after the interaction with the teens.

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