Missing Evidence: Possibly Exculpatory Documents Not Given to Defense Team in Child Rapist/Murderer Case

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Aug. 6, 2008

“Absolutely not,” Sandra Goldthorpe says when asked if she’s seen an annotated, front-and-back diagram of a human form, describing the head-to-knee external injuries to 4-year-old Ja’niya Ebony Williams’ body, as observed by the Baltimore medical examiner at her autopsy on June 24, 2006. “That would have been useful to have from the get-go,” she says, because it shows that “there are way too many bruises on her for what Ronald confessed to doing.”

Goldthorpe is talking about her client, Ronald Albert Hinton*, who is serving a life sentence, plus 25 years, for raping and murdering Williams. A Baltimore City jury decided in May that Hinton’s false-confession defense and the prosecutors’ flawed DNA evidence at trial did not raise reasonable doubts about his guilt. Hinton, who was Williams’ baby sitter and had just turned 15 when the child was killed, maintains his innocence and has filed an appeal.

Goldthorpe and her law partner, Janice Bledsoe, are in their downtown law office on July 30, looking at Baltimore Police Department (BPD) records of the investigation that led to Hinton’s conviction. City Paper‘s recent feature article about the case (“Puzzling Evidence,” Feature, July 30) was based largely on these documents, and showed how Hinton’s jury was not privy to available evidence that some of Williams’ many injuries–including bite marks that Hinton confessed to giving her–were described as “old” or “faded” at the time of the June 21, 2006, incident that led to her death several days later. But Hinton’s lawyers say they haven’t seen some of the documents before, which they would have liked to use for his defense at trial since doubts about his guilt could be raised by the existence of prior injuries at the hands of others.

“That’s the first I have heard of that,” Bledsoe says, when shown a detective’s notes of efforts to compare the bite marks on Williams’ body to Hinton’s teeth. BPD homicide detective Todd Corriveau, who attended Williams’ autopsy, had the medical examiner prepare to-scale photographs of the marks with the hope of comparing them to molds of Hinton’s teeth. Corriveau’s notes show that on June 28, 2006, he conferred with an expert, University of Maryland forensic dentist Warren Tewes, who told him a comparison could not be made because the marks lacked the necessary definition.

“I would have called up Tewes,” Goldthorpe says, especially in light of the fact that Corriveau’s notes say that “Tewes provided general, basic information regarding the bite marks on the victim’s skin that may or may not be of relevance” at trial, and that “details” of that information were not included in the notes. “I would want to know more about that,” Goldthorpe says. “And we didn’t get the to-scale photographs of the bite marks, which would have been very helpful” Bledsoe says.

“In fact, I had never seen any of Corriveau’s notes concerning the autopsy,” which showed that the detective described “faded” bite marks on Williams’ buttocks. “I would have wanted to ask him about that when he was on the stand,” Bledsoe says, adding that “I’m a little concerned about [Corriveau] saying [in his notes] there were prior bite marks and then [prosecutors Joanne Stanton and Temmi Rollock] not giving that [information] to us.”

Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Margaret Burns says “prosecutors followed the law and complied with Maryland’s discovery rules and disclosed all evidence” to Hinton’s defense attorneys. Though the office has what’s called an “open file policy,” in which defense attorneys have access to everything the prosecution has, it has nonetheless long been criticized for failures to provide exculpatory information. Bledsoe, in fact, is representing another Baltimore defendant, Kenneth Perry, who won a new murder trial because of the state’s failure to provide exculpatory evidence at his first trial when he was convicted in 2001.

Bledsoe is hesitant to argue, based on what documents she knows she did not have at trial, that Stanton and Rollock failed to provide her with exculpatory evidence, as required. “Is it exculpatory? It’s right on the line,” she asserts. “It might be a cumulative thing,” in which, taken altogether, documentation not provided to the defense could have been used to persuade the jury to have reasonable doubts about Hinton’s guilt.

Hinton confessed to biting Williams, for instance, but the jury knew that DNA recovered from the bite wounds did not come from Hinton; in fact, female DNA was recovered from bite marks on the upper thigh. Thus, the dental expert’s conclusions about the size of the bite marks, as documented in Corriveau’s to-scale photographs, may have been useful to the defense in further suggesting to the jury that Hinton could not have bitten Williams, despite his confession. But Hinton’s lawyers didn’t know about the dental expert, so they didn’t know to explore the possibilities of what he might say in front of a jury.

City Paper attempted to contact Tewes to ask him what he told Corriveau about the photographs of the bite marks. E-mails including detailed questions sent to him and the University of Maryland Dental School media office got no response, and neither did multiple phone messages.

Bledsoe acknowledges that the prosecutors did provide her with some documentation of older injuries on Williams’ body that the jury never saw because she was frustrated in her efforts to elicit corroborating testimony.

“I’m trying to be self-critical,” she says. Bledsoe, despite her evidentiary frustrations, emphasized the prior injury theory in her closing arguments at trial.

In particular, Bledsoe’s files contain documentation that the doctor who cared for Williams at the hospital observed “old bites on chest, and left thigh,” and that one of the medics at the scene of the incident noted “bruises were older” than indicated by Hinton’s interpretation of what injured her–that she had just fallen off the bed.

The doctor’s observations appeared in the search-warrant application in the case that was filed before Hinton’s confession, but not in the one filed afterward, perhaps, Bledsoe suggests, “because his confession was not consistent with old bruises and bite marks,” so the phrase was omitted from the second application. The medic’s comment, Bledsoe continues, were contained in a transcript that was provided to the defense after the start of the trial, so she missed it in the rush to prepare.

Goldthorpe takes a phone call while Bledsoe continues to go through City Paper‘s documents from the BPD files. It’s Steven Drizin calling for Bledsoe. Goldthorpe takes a message: Drizin is the legal director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago, and he has just read the City Paperarticle about Hinton.

Drizin specializes in juvenile false confessions. As of press time, Drizin and Bledsoe had not yet had the opportunity to discuss the case. But Hinton’s mother, Francine Toney, who is convinced by the DNA evidence that her son falsely confessed, says any attention to the case by a specialist such as Drizin “is hope, and we need hope.”

*Ronald Hinton is the son of the late Baltimore Police Department trainee Sean Hinton , whose body in 1992 was found floating off Manhattan with his wrists tied in front of him by the drawstrings of his jacket, and whose death was ruled a suicide despite allegations of police corruption immediately prior.

Foodscape

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, July 23, 2008

The annual Foodscape exhibition at the Mount Royal Tavern embodies that dive’s slogan that art is bullshit and good bullshit is art. Staged as a critique of the abundance of food and lack of art at Artscape, Foodscape is nearly as old as its rival and, for many, its offerings are the only art seen during Artscape. Tavern regulars forever engaging in good bullshit with art on the walls may have come to see the bar as simply a perpetual Foodscape that annually is interrupted by Artscape. If so, it’s time to give the Tavern a rest. If not, here’s all you need to know: The Tavern is open from mid-morning until 2 a.m.

Unstopped Snitching: Skinny Suge’s Prison Cell Phone Seized

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Dec. 24, 2008

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Ronnie Thomas, also known as “Skinny Suge” and “Suga da Pimp,” is a tenacious media hound. He made a name for himself with the 2005 release of his video, Stop Fucking Snitching Vol. 1, a rambling, low-budget documentary that opened a frenzied national discussion on street-level abhorrence for police cooperators.

Now Suge’s in the Supermax prison, serving time for a 2007 assault conviction and awaiting trial on federal gang-related conspiracy charges. But according to federal court documents, that didn’t stop him from shouting out to friends and fans over a contraband cell phone taken from his prison cell on Nov. 24. The documents, which include the phone numbers of incoming and outgoing calls and text messages contained in the phone, indicate that authorities learned of the phone through an informant’s tip.

Many of the text messages transcribed in the court records are Thanksgiving greetings (“Happy Turkey Day!”) or about routine matters (“Do u still got tarsha number from the salon?” and “What’s up mike got locked up this morning.”), but others are just plain cryptic–apparently, even to Suge. “SO U PLAYING GAME WITH ME BITCH,” reads one, sent to Suge in the early morning hours of Nov. 24. “What u talking bout,” Suge texts back.

The same question could be asked when reading this message, sent by Suge (pictured, in a scene from the movie) to a WERQ radio deejay: “BIG L, Real words from da ckitys realest negro, Smash &ckrip r somegood lil negros an im definitely bhind dem boyz wishin dem nothing but da best! Let dem ckats know, on my word da whole Bgang is Bhind dem! GET MONEY PIMPIN-DA BIG HOMMIE, SUGA DA PIMP E.A.”

The deejay, Big L, explains the communiqué this way: “Suge texted me a message and asked me to play a song or give him a shout-out while I was on the air,” he says during a Dec. 10 interview with City Paper. “There was a local rap group on the air with us, Smash ‘n’ Crip, and he just was listening and wanted to let them know they sound good. To hear him say something like that is a plus for them,” Big L says of the rap group–which, he adds in reference to the word “Crip” in the group’s name, “has no gang affiliation.”

Suge, Big L says, “is an old friend of mine from growing up in the neighborhood. He was a good guy, despite the things he might have done wrong. He always showed me respect, like I shown him.”

Suge’s lawyer, Michael Montemarano, says he is aware that a phone was seized from his client’s prison cell, but explains that “I can neither confirm nor deny that he had the cell phone.” Montemarano also says that, “to the extent that it would be true” that Suge had a cell phone in prison, “it would be troubling,” because “how could he have gotten the phone without the help of someone in a blue suit?”–referring to uniformed correctional officers.

“Cell phones are not allowed in prison,” says Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services spokesman Mark Vernarelli, “and they are a major problem that we have been trying to address.” Neither Vernarelli nor U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Marcia Murphy had anything further to add about the incident.

Friends of Milton Tillman Jr.: Raided Businessman’s Political Beneficiaries Discuss Donations

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Aug. 27, 2008

“I know of him, but I don’t know him,” Keiffer Mitchell Jr., former Baltimore city councilman and 2007 mayoral candidate, says when asked about Milton Tillman Jr., the Baltimore bondsman and real-estate investor whose business interests were targeted in Aug. 18 federal law-enforcement raids at seven Baltimore locations. Mitchell’s 2007 campaign last August received a total of $1,000 from Tillman Jr.’s companies–$500 each from 4 Aces Bail Bonds and New Trend Development. Mitchell acknowledges that his family–a political dynasty that includes civil-rights pioneers and U.S. congressmen–goes way back with Tillman Jr. While he doesn’t know him, he says he’s “appreciative of his campaign contribution.”

Mitchell is nonplussed with the idea that it might look bad politically to have received political donations from a man with two federal convictions in his background, and who now, along with his son Milton Tillman III, is being targeted again. “There were members of my family who were convicted and sent to jail,” Mitchell points out during the Aug. 21 phone interview, referring to Clarence Mitchell III and Michael Mitchell, both former elected officials who fell from grace in the 1980s. “Do I kick them out?” he asks, adding that his ex-con cousins “worked on my campaign.”

Altogether, 13 Maryland politicians gathered $8,250 from three Tillman companies since 2001. Most politicians contacted about the donations they received from Tillman enterprises are not as candid as Mitchell. Many of them–state Del. Talmadge Branch (D-45st District), state Sen. Nathaniel McFadden (D-45th District), former Baltimore City Council President Lawrence Bell (D), and former Baltimore City State’s Attorney Stuart Simms (D), who ran for Maryland attorney general in 2006–did not respond to inquiries at all.

Henry Fawell, spokesman for former Gov. Robert Ehrlich (R), writes in an e-mail that “we’ll decline to comment.” Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith couldn’t respond due to illness. A returned phone call from Baltimore City Councilwoman Belinda Conaway (D-7th District) was missed. Baltimore County Circuit Court Associate Judge Mickey Norman spoke to City Paper in April (“Grave Accusations, Mobtown Beat, April 23), explaining that judicial campaigns are set up to buffer the candidate from knowledge of donors, so he was not aware of the donation from Tillman Jr. State Comptroller Peter Franchot’s campaign spokesman, Tim Daly, says the campaign will be returning Tillman’s money. “We just felt it was the right thing to do,” Daly says.

Two of Tillman Jr.’s beneficiaries–state Sen. Catherine Pugh (D-40th District) and former state Del. Salima Siler Marriott, who is now a Baltimore City deputy mayor–claim never before to have heard the Milton Tillman name. “Nope,” Pugh says repeatedly when asked if she knew him, his name, or anything about him, insisting that “I’ve never heard of him.” Marriott did not return messages for this article, but in April she told City Paper she, too, had never heard of Tillman (“Grave Accusations”).

One recipient of Tillman campaign money is Baltimore City Councilman Bernard “Jack” Young (D-12th District), who is not shy about knowing Tillman Jr. “We grew up in the same community, East Baltimore,” Young explains. “He’s a nice guy.” Asked about indications that Tillman Jr. is tied to the drug trade, Young says, “I’ve heard about the drug allegations before. Any response I make, the government can come after me. So I have no comment.”

Additional reporting by Jeffrey Anderson

Milton’s Till: Donations From Tillman Family Companies to Political Figures

Aug. 23, 2006: $1,000 from Xpress Bail Bonds, to Lawrence Bell (D), former Baltimore City Council President, 1999 candidate for Baltimore Mayor

June 16, 2006: $1,200 from 4 Aces Bail Bonds, to Talmadge Branch, D-45th District, House of Delegates, Majority Whip

Nov. 6, 2007: $100 from 4 Aces Bail Bonds, to Belinda Conaway, D-7th District, Baltimore City Council

Aug. 26, 2002: $500 from 4 Aces Bail Bonds, to Robert Ehrlich (R), former Maryland Governor

Jan. 8, 2008: $1,000 from 4 Aces Bail Bonds, to Peter Franchot (D), Maryland Comptroller

July 29, 2006: $500 from 4 Aces Bail Bonds, to Salima Siler Marriott (D), Baltimore Deputy Mayor, former 40th District Delegate

Jan. 4, 2008: $500 from 4 Aces Bail Bonds, to Nathaniel McFadden, D-45th District, Maryland Senate

Aug. 23, 2007: $1,000 from 4 Aces Bail Bonds ($500) and New Trend Development ($500), to Keiffer Mitchell Jr. (D), former Baltimore City Councilman, 2007 candidate for Baltimore Mayor

March 1, 2005: $500 from 4 Aces Bail Bonds, to Mickey Norman, Baltimore County Circuit Court Associate Judge

Aug. 22, 2003: $250 from 4 Aces Bail Bonds, to Catherine Pugh, D-40th District, Maryland Senate

May 4, 2006: $500 from New Trend Development, to Stuart Simms (D), former Baltimore State’s Attorney, 2006 candidate Maryland Attorney General

July 27, 2004: $1,000 from New Trend Development, to Jim Smith (D), Baltimore County Executive

Sept. 6, 2001: $200 from 4 Aces Bail Bonds, to Bernard “Jack” Young, D-12th District, Baltimore City Council

Puzzling Evidence: The Confession of a Boy Convicted of Raping and Murdering a Child Outweighed Indications That He Might Not Have Done It

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, July 30, 2008 (Photo from Baltimore City Police Department)

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“Come here with an ambulance, quick!”

15-year-old Ronald Alberto Hinton cries over the phone to the 911 operator just after noon. “My little cousin fell on the porch, hit her head, she ain’t getting up. Come on, hurry up!” Seconds later, he tells the operator she “fell and hit her head on the ground.” When the responding medics and police arrive, Hinton, who is the baby sitter, tells them that 4-year-old Ja’niya Ebony Woodley fell while jumping on the bed.

Hinton is at 2908 Goodwood Road in Northeast Baltimore, a house rented by his uncle Leland Slater and Slater’s longtime companion, Deborah Wall, who are the unconscious girl’s grandparents. Daikwon Eaddy, the girl’s 7-year-old brother, is the only other person at the house when the authorities arrive. He corroborates the fall from the bed, but his version differs from Hinton’s on where she landed.

The first responders quickly conclude the child’s extensive injuries–the most obvious are that her face is black and blue and swollen, her lower lip is busted, and there are bite marks on her chest and thigh and bruises all over, especially on her thigh and back–resulted from child abuse, some of it sexual. The boys’ stories don’t hold up. One of the medics, according to her statement in the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) homicide file of the case, says that “seeing the bruises, I knew that no matter how high the bed was, the bruises were older than what [Hinton] made them appear to be.”

Shortly after 1 p.m. on June 21, 2006, the victim is transported by ambulance to Johns Hopkins Hospital in East Baltimore, where Dr. Jamie Schwartz examines her and tells Baltimore police detectives that her injuries “are not accidental,” noting her condition: “critical with minimal brain activity, a bite on her nipple, old bites on chest, and left thigh.” Injuries to the vaginal area are also observed, and a kit used to gather evidence of rape is administered, including a swab to test for genetic material left in the bite marks on the left thigh.

Also arriving at the hospital are several of the victim’s relatives, and a chaotic scene soon erupts when the child’s actual parentage becomes known to shocked family members for the first time. Her name is not Ja’niya Woodley, it turns but, but Ja’niya Williams. Tempers flare as the child’s mother, Joy Eaddy, is caught having lied to Keenan Woodley, who up until that moment thought he was Ja’niya’s father, and John Williams, the child’s actual father, who learns suddenly that Keenan Woodley was also helping to raise the child. The shift in the family tree also means Hinton is not Ja’niya Williams’ cousin, as he thought when he called 911 a couple of hours earlier, and that Slater and Wall are not her grandparents.

A city Department of Social Services (DSS) social worker attempting to interview family members reports that she encounters rage and indignation as they start “yelling they did not abuse” the victim. Joy Eaddy does “not show any signs of remorse, sadness or concern” over her daughter’s injuries, and is “quickly angered” and refuses “to answer any more questions.” A distraught Wall tells paramedics and the police that the child is not abused and that her only injuries occurred the day before, when she fell into a fan and hurt her head. Another DSS caseworker informs police that Joy Eaddy “has a DSS history of child neglect,” without providing details, but tells them that Daikwon Eaddy “was to have no contact with his mother . . . until further notice.”

 

At police headquarters downtown, at 10 p.m. later that night, Hinton sits in a waiting room with his mother, Francine Toney; he’s been there since shortly before 5 p.m. Daikwon Eaddy is there, too, in Slater’s care. They are waiting to speak with two detectives–William Wagner of the child-abuse section and homicide investigator Todd Corriveau–who have just arrived after spending the afternoon and evening at the hospital, gathering information about Ja’niya Williams’ injuries and family circumstances. At quarter to midnight, after taking a statement from Slater, the detectives start to tape their interview of Eaddy.

Eaddy, the detectives write, says Hinton was “slamming [his sister] on the bed” and “kept on messing with her,” even though “she kept crying for me” to help and Eaddy was telling Hinton to “Stop! Stop!” He describes his sister as “unconscious,” “bleeding from her nose and mouth,” and as having “many bruises on her body.” Eaddy recalls Hinton “was holding his sister’s hands and shaking her,” and also “dragging his sister on the steps inside the home.”

At 12:06 a.m. on June 22, right after Eaddy’s statement is taken, Corriveau writes in his log of the investigation that “Ronald Hinton is now a suspect,” though Hinton and his mother do not know this.

At 12:35 a.m., Hinton is advised of and waives his Miranda rights in the presence of his mother, who is then ushered away. The detectives begin an hourlong preliminary interview, which is not tape-recorded. At 1:36 a.m., they turn on the tape recorder and go over it all again for posterity.

Wagner writes in the charging papers that Hinton confessed to “performing cunnilingus on the victim, fondling and digitally penetrating the victim’s vagina with his fingers, and putting his penis partially in the victim’s vagina. The defendant also bit the victim on her right breast and bit the victim twice on her left thigh. He struck her multiple times with an open hand to the face. At one point the victim ran downstairs and he pursued. He caught her and carried her back upstairs, retrieved a black belt from a closet and beat her with it.”

The detectives note that “Hinton provided information that only he–the suspect–had knowledge of, such as the exact injury to the victim’s body and how her injuries were inflicted,” though the detectives, too, know Williams’ injuries.

At 3:15 a.m., Hinton is charged with rape and assault and put in temporary lockup at the Central District police station. At 4:10 a.m., Corriveau checks to see if Ja’niya Williams is still alive. She is, though she never regains consciousness and dies of her brain injuries on June 23. The next day in the early evening, after the medical examiner rules her death a homicide, murder is added to the list of Hinton’s charges.

When Hinton is transferred to the Central District Intake Facility and is preparing for his bail-review hearing on June 26, his cousin, correctional officer Robin Smith, recognizes him. She looks at his paperwork and listens to what he has to say. “They said I tried to murder somebody,” Smith recalls Hinton saying. “I didn’t do it,” he continues, crying. “They made me sign something, and [said] if I didn’t I would never get to see my mother again, and I’d never go home. They forced me. They made me say I did it, but I didn’t do it.”

After listening to Hinton’s story, Smith gives him some advice: “Don’t talk to no one if they’re not your mother or your lawyer.” She also tells him not to show his charging papers to anyone, warning him that “papers like that can get you killed in here.”

 

When Ja’niya Williams’ autopsy is conducted on June 24, the medical examiner, Dr. Laron Locke, fills out a diagram with front and back views of a human body. It is used to indicate and describe her external injuries, and it is crowded from her head to her knees with circles and dots connected with lines and arrows to short descriptions of what is observed at various locations. Regarding the head, the notes say: “Whole forehead = general bruise,” with “minor scratches” and a “bruise” around the eyes, while both cheeks are described as “swollen” and the left lower lip is “swollen” with a “small cut” inside.

Corriveau attends the autopsy and compares the findings with Hinton’s confession. He learns that she died as a result of suffering a subdural hematoma, in which veins inside her cranium ruptured, causing blood to constrict and ultimately shut down her swelling brain. Corriveau writes in his summary of the autopsy that this, along with “general blunt force injury to her head,” is “consistent with suspect’s confession that he `beat’ the victim about her head.” He also points out that “skull not fractured; no specific contact `point of impact’ on victim’s head,” and that there are no signs “of any type of strangulation/smothering.”

Corriveau continues his comparison. He notes “abrasions to outside of vagina,” and is reminded that Hinton said he “put his fingers/penis in/on and `rubbed’ victim’s vagina.” He finds the bruising observed at the entry of her vagina, along with the fact that her hymen is intact, consistent with Hinton’s admission “that he `only put it in a little bit.'” Hinton said “he hit her in her bottom lip with his hand,” which explains the swollen, cut lip. The bite marks–on the right breast and on the left thigh–correspond to Hinton’s statement that he “bit her `on her right breast'” and “repeatedly” on the left thigh. The “small linear abrasion to lower back,” Corriveau surmises, is “possibly caused by belt striking her, per suspect’s confession,” and the “bruising and/or possible faded bite marks to right rear buttock” is “consistent with suspect’s confession that he struck her in buttocks with belt.”

Many of Williams’ injuries do not directly correlate to Hinton’s confession, Corriveau notes. The “swollen cheeks,” the “general redness/bruising to forehead,” the “minor scratches/bruising to eyes & in between eyes,” the “bruising to right shoulder,” the “scratch on right arm,” the “bruise to front of right thigh,” the “abrasion to left clavicle,” the “abrasions/contusion to left rear shoulder,” the “bruising to inner left bicep/outer left bicep,” the “bruise” on the “left forearm,” the “scratches/bruise to left hand/wrists,” and the “large contusion/abrasion to middle top back”–these aren’t explained by Hinton’s description of how he injured Williams.

The bite marks on Williams’ body, Corriveau writes, “appear more similar to severe `hickeys’ than to actual puncture wounds or tears to her skin.” But, he adds, “the shape of a mouth is clearly seen on the bite marks, with some spots having clear indications where teeth touched the victim’s skin.” So Corriveau has the medical examiner prepare photographs of them, to scale, “for future comparison purposes to the suspect’s teeth.” The photos, he explains, “will be a better indicator” for comparison that “actual cut-out samples of the victim’s skin,” given the skin “not being drastically broken by the bite marks.”

Two days after the autopsy, Corriveau contacts forensic odentologist Warren Tewes, of the University of Maryland, and discusses with him the possibility of getting “dental molds of the suspect’s teeth, via search warrant, for comparison purposes to the photos of the bite marks on the victim.” On June 28, Corriveau meets with Tewes, who says that dental molds of Hinton’s teeth–which ultimately were not obtained–“are not applicable” for comparing to the photos because the bite marks “have a `lack of definition’ that is necessary for effective and conclusive comparison purposes.” However, Corriveau continues, “Tewes provided general, basic information regarding the bite marks on the victim’s skin that may or may not be of relevance for court and/or testimony purposes” at trial.

 

The day of the incident, police seize all manner of property from Slater and Wall’s home: sheets, pillows, towels, comforters, a washcloth, a T-shirt, a pair of panties, a pair of flip-flops, a cap, and a pair of shorts with blood on them. They also take swabs of suspected blood from a dresser, a bathroom, a foot stool, and a wall. On June 24, they return and retrieve a belt with “possible blood stains.” Hinton told police about the belt during his confession two days earlier, but the warrant is served only after the autopsy “corroborated the suspect’s claim that he beat the victim with a belt (mainly a 2-3 inch linear abrasion on her back, as well as other bruises on her body),” Corriveau writes in his reports.

After getting the blood and DNA profiles of Ja’niya Williams and Hinton, whose fingerprints are also obtained, Corriveau on July 5 asks for lab work to be done on the seized property. He orders that the belt be analyzed for possible fingerprints and blood, and also asks for the blood on the shorts and the four blood swabs taken from the house be compared to Hinton’s and Williams’ blood. The DNA comparisons he asks for are from a hair found on a sticky pad from the victim’s body at the hospital, and from the swabs taken from Williams’ bite marks, vagina, and anus. He explains that these swabs, which were taken “approximately four hours after” the incident, “are most likely better samples for comparison purposes” than those taken at autopsy three days after Williams arrived at the hospital.

Meanwhile, Corriveau spends the midmorning of June 24 canvassing neighborhood residents. He writes in his report that several of them say they already told news reporters their thoughts about Ronald Hinton, which are, as Corriveau summarizes them, that he “has a history, over the past 4 years (approximately), of violence, lying, abusive language, and sexually charged comments to neighborhood women.” The residents request anonymity and don’t give recorded statements, though Corriveau has their names and contact information. Later that day, he phones a DSS Child Protective Services worker and e-mails BPD public-information officer Donny Moses to inform them of his findings.

Twice more, on July 3 and July 9, Corriveau visits the neighborhood to collect firsthand knowledge of Hinton’s past behavior from four more nearby residents. They, too, ask to remain anonymous. They tell him Hinton is “easily argumentative,” “very confrontational,” and that he “has been seen `beating on’ his `little brothers and sisters’ in his front yard until they either ran away or until `his big brother’ physically stopped him from doing so.” They recall that Hinton “strangled their son approximately 5 years ago, by using both his hands to squeeze their son’s throat, and that suspect had to be physically pulled from their son.”

(Toney reacts to the details of the neighbors’ anonymous accusations with indignation. “It makes me furious,” she says. “We weren’t really welcome to the neighborhood when we moved” there in the mid-`90s, she observes, and alleges that her family has periodically been subjected to racist comments from neighbors. She says her son has taken his share of guff around the neighborhood over the years, and that at times he’s taken the bait–such as the time several years ago that another neighborhood child “hocked spit in his face,” and they fought. But as for the contention that he beat up his younger siblings, Toney says “that didn’t happen.” And she dismisses the suggestion that he makes sexually inappropriate comments as the neighbors “just trying to make him out to be a monster. He did things some children do, he’s not perfect, but that he’s this monstrous thing–I won’t accept it.”)

Corriveau finds that Hinton has no prior juvenile criminal record, though he was the victim of an alleged aggravated assault two years earlier. And a review to see if he has a record of any “citizen contact receipts”–documentation of police-initiated interactions that don’t result in charges–turns up nothing.

On July 10, Corriveau joins the prosecutorial team handling the case–Baltimore assistant state’s attorneys JoAnne Stanton and Temmi Rollack–to interview Daikwon Eaddy at his mother’s home. He arranges the meeting “in order for Stanton and Rollack to meet” the young boy, “ask him preliminary questions regarding the incident in question, and to obtain a `feel’ for him, in terms of his pending court testimony.” The star prosecution witness has a surprise for them.

“During the meeting,” Corriveau writes, Daikwon Eaddy “disclosed that on the day of the incident in question, suspect Ronald Hinton beat him with a belt (previously undisclosed).” Two other people, whose names are redacted from Corriveau’s report, recall that “each observed marks on his back, consistent with being hit with a belt” when Eaddy returned to his grandmother’s house after his June 21 interview with police.

 

In December 2006, Francine Toney calls City Paper. It is not the first time she’s been in contact with the paper. More than a decade ago, City Paper published an extensive, investigative cover feature and two follow-up news articles about the 1992 death of her husband, Baltimore police trainee Sean Hinton, who was Ronald Hinton’s father (“Dead in the Water,” May 8, 1996; “Another Look,” Mobtown Beat, Dec. 4, 1996; “Questionable Death,” Mobtown Beat, June 4, 1997). Over the intervening years, she stayed in touch, but attempts to reach her after Ronald Hinton’s confession had been fruitless: She’d changed her phone number and moved. Now she’s on the phone, and the emotions are running high.

“The DNA [analysis of evidence in Williams’ homicide] came back, and Ronald couldn’t have done things he confessed to,” Toney explains. “The detectives told me, `The DNA will show everything,'” she continues, in tears. “Now it’s back, and it shows he didn’t do it!” She asks if police would go out and find who killed Williams, now that it was obvious her son didn’t. When asked why he confessed, she says, “he’s afraid of police because of what happened to Sean [Hinton]. The detectives balled up their fists and threatened him, and told him he could go home if he said he did it. He just wanted to be out of there.”

Toney says she does not have all the details, but she knows this much: Ronald’s DNA was not in the bite marks; somebody else’s was. “He didn’t bite her,” Toney says. “Somebody else did. And there’s other people’s DNA at other places, too, different people.” She adds that since her son has been held in jail, turmoil between the two families has been taxing, but the new DNA findings are “going to make things worse. Who did these things to that poor child?”

Toney takes out a second mortgage on her house to hire Janice Bledsoe as her son’s criminal-defense attorney in early 2007. She invites a City Paper reporter to go with her and several members of her family for a February 2007 meeting about the case at Bledsoe’s office. Color photographs of Ja’niya Williams lying face up in a Hopkins hospital bed are reviewed, prompting remarks (including by this reporter) that some of the bruises look less than fresh. No one in the room is an expert on such matters, but everyone bruises, and therefore knows that bruises change color over time. Some of Williams’ many bruises appeared to have a greenish-yellowish hue, suggesting some time had passed since they were sustained.

If someone’s DNA other than Hinton’s is in the bite marks, and if Williams’ sustained earlier injuries when Hinton was not present, then Toney and the rest of Hinton’s family have hope that perhaps his confession can be overcome at trial. The jury is going to need an explanation of why Hinton confessed falsely, and the one that Toney suggests–his deep-seated fear of police, because of what he believes about his father’s death when he was an infant–is the only one available.

During the weeks after the incident, the issue of prior injuries to Williams is brought up during Corriveau’s interviews with family members, as transcribed in the homicide file. He asks the witnesses if Hinton has been the children’s baby sitter on prior occasions, and if any injuries were observed at those times. He learns that Hinton has, and that no injuries were noticed before–except on the day before the incident, and Corriveau gets different versions of the story.

Deborah Walls, at the hospital on the night of the incident, is on record mentioning that Williams had injured her head in an accident with a fan. But when she’s interviewed later by Corriveau, she tells it differently. “When I got home I noticed a hickey on her forehead, on her left side,” Walls says during a July 1, 2006, taped interview. “I said, `Where did you get that?’ And she said she had fallen getting a towel, and I got right on the phone immediately and called her mother and let her talk to her mother. I tell her mother any time they got injured playing or anything, that’s the first thing I did.” By “hickey,” she explains, she means “a bump, as a bump on the head.” She says Ronald Hinton told her that “[Ja’niya] fell.”

Leland Slater is also interviewed on July 1, and in his version, it’s the fan that hurts Williams, but on her back rather than her head. He recalls he was in the kitchen with other family members on the night before the incident, and somehow Williams’ shirt rode up her back. He says he saw “marks on her back,” and when Williams was asked about them, he recalls Ja’niya saying that “I was upstairs” and “I fell over the fan.”

The conflicting explanations of the nature and cause of Williams’ injuries the day before raises the question: Are there any other indications that some of Williams’ injuries may have happened before June 21? And there are. The medic, for instance, who helped treat Williams before she arrived the hospital, and who told police she thinks some of the “bruises were older.” And Dr. Schwartz at Hopkins, who described “old bites on chest, and left thigh,” a phrase that was used in the charging documents and search-warrant affidavits in the case against Hinton. Corriveau himself, in his report about the autopsy, describes “bruising and/or possible faded bite marks to right rear buttock” (emphasis added).

Corriveau clearly suspected Hinton had abused Williams before, but witnesses didn’t corroborate that idea. As a result, his investigative record suggests Williams had older injuries–including at least some of the very bite marks that Hinton confessed to giving her.

Raising the importance of the bite marks even further is the fact that the ones on the upper left thigh were swabbed and came back positive for the presence of DNA belonging to an unknown person other than Hinton. Yet the homicide file has nothing in it to suggest investigators even considered taking steps to try to identify that person. Nor are there any indications in the file that attempts were made to learn the source of the DNA recovered from a variety of other locations on the tested evidence belonging to people other than Hinton.

After all, who needs DNA when you already have a confession?

 

“Ronald Hinton is the son of Sean Hinton and Francine Toney,” Bledsoe tells the Baltimore City Circuit Court jury. She’s five minutes into her opening statement on the first day of the trial, April 23, 2008, and she is trying to tell the jurors why, if Hinton didn’t rape and beat Williams, he would tell the police he did. “The Hinton family has an unusual history,” Bledsoe says. “Sean Hinton was a police officer–”

“Objection,” Stanton says.

Bledsoe shrugs in frustration as she and Stanton approach the bench to argue before Judge John Addison Howard. Stanton hardly says a word in the ensuing debate, though, as it is apparent that Howard has already made up his mind: Bledsoe won’t be allowed to discuss Hinton’s father in front of the jury.

“It’s a bunch of hooey and a lot of hearsay,” Howard tells Bledsoe during the bench conference, “and you’re not going to be able to go into it.”

Bledsoe explains the situation to Hinton and his family out in the hallway–that the main thrust of his defense was just yanked out from under him. She adds that it is even worse than that, because the jury, having heard only half of her sentence, is left with the impression that since Sean Hinton was a police officer, his son would have strong reasons to trust the police, not to fear them. The last guilty-plea offer from the prosecutor, prior to the beginning of the trial, was 20 years of imprisonment, but Hinton and his family still don’t want to take the deal. Ronald is innocent, they say, and they want a trial. So the trial continues.

The tape of Ronald Hinton’s confession is played. Though it doesn’t appear in the transcript–and though Corriveau and Wagner testify that once they turned on the tape recorder, they never turned it off again until the confession was over–Bledsoe points out to the jury that the very beginning of the tape has a split-second of a human voice loudly saying, “Stop messing with me!” It sounds like Hinton’s voice.

Corriveau insists that he didn’t use leading questions when interviewing Hinton, didn’t suggest Williams’ injuries so that Hinton had the information he needed to admit to details about the injuries that Corriveau knew from visiting her in the hospital–and then Bledsoe proves he did on two occasions, when Corriveau asked Hinton whether or not he put his hands between Williams’ legs and his fingers in her vagina. Corriveau explains that Hinton had already provided that information in the preliminary interview.

Wagner testifies that he took notes rather than record the preliminary interview in order to have a complete record–and then admits that, yes, recording the preliminary interview, too, would have provided a more complete record of what transpired in the interview room. (Hinton’s false-confession claim was included in a City Paper article [“Fess Up,” Mobtown Beat, Jan. 23] about a law that passed in Maryland’s 2008 General Assembly session requiring police to videotape all aspects of interviews with suspects in murder and sexual-assault cases. The law is intended to help create foolproof confessions, while also assuring police interviews are on the up-and-up.)

Corriveau’s theory that Hinton had abused Williams on prior occasions does not come up at the trial. In fact, other than the “hickey” on Williams’ forehead, no one–not Corriveau, not the medic, not Dr. Schwartz–testifies that they observed any signs that some of Williams’ injuries may have occurred before the harm Hinton confessed to inflicting. Under cross examination, though, the medical examiner admits the possibility that Williams’ death could have been caused by more than one brain injury in succession. In other words, it’s theoretically possible that whatever harmed Williams’ head on June 21 may have worsened a brain injury that occurred earlier.

The conflicting stories used to explain Williams’ hickey–was it tripping on a towel, falling into a fan, or both?–are not brought up for the jury. Nor is there any mention of the marks on her back that Slater said he observed in the kitchen the night before the incident. In fact, Slater doesn’t testify at all. Whatever became of Corriveau’s attempt to compare Hinton’s dental pattern to Williams’ bite marks also is not in evidence at the trial.

Daikwon Eaddy, now 9, gives confusing testimony broken up by bathroom breaks and a tearful inability to answer questions. He says nothing about Hinton beating him with a belt, and though his testimony describes menacing behavior by Hinton, he does not say Hinton committed the violent acts he’d told investigators about the night of the incident.

At one point, Judge Howard comes down off the bench, crouches next to Eaddy, and has a quiet conversation with him in front of the jury. “You’re doing good,” the judge tells him. When Bledsoe asks twice for a recess, so the jury won’t continue see Howard giving Eaddy a pep talk, the judge gets testy: “I heard you the first time, Ms. Bledsoe.”

The DNA evidence is presented, including a dramatic cross examination of the DNA expert by Bledsoe’s partner, Sandra Goldthorpe, who reveals to the jury that the DNA in the bite marks not only isn’t Hinton’s but that it’s a female’s. All told, six of the analyzed items excluded Ronald Hinton’s DNA, but included the DNA of others, male and female. If any of the jurors want a solid basis on which to build reasonable doubts about Hinton’s guilt, it is the DNA evidence. But they still have the confession to consider, and they still don’t have an explanation for why anyone would lie about such things.

 

The prosecution team wraps up its case, and Ronald Hinton takes the stand in his own defense. He accuses Corriveau and Wagner of threatening to beat him up in the interview room if he didn’t confess. “That’s when I kept on telling them, like, `Leave me alone,'” Hinton testifies. “And that’s when I said I didn’t do nothing. That’s when they said, `If you tell us you did it, we’ll let you go home.’ I thought I was going to go home, because I was scared, because I thought something was going to happen to me, because I don’t like police officers, and the reason I don’t like them–”

“Objection,” the prosecutor says.

“Sustained,” the judge says.

Bledsoe tries to elicit Hinton’s response in a variety of ways and is blocked two more times by sustained objections before the judge allows her line of questions to continue.

Bledsoe turns to Hinton and asks, “Why were you afraid?”

“Because my father,” Hinton answers, “he was killed by policemen, even his own partners.”

That’s all Ronald Hinton’s jury heard about his father’s story: two mentions on either end of the trial, with no details, no context, and no questions asked or answered. It’s a case that stands out in the memories of many Baltimore police officers, and it has deeply haunted the Hinton family.

Sean Hinton was 22, weeks away from his city police academy graduation, and had just undergone field training in the Western District with police officer Stanley Gasque. On Oct. 24, 1992, a Friday night, Hinton had a minor car accident downtown and was arrested and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol. The next day, after getting his car out of the tow lot, he walked out of his home. His last contact with his family was a phone call from the Amtrak station in Baltimore to his family.

Ten days later, his body was recovered from the New York Harbor off Battery Park in lower Manhattan. His wrists were bound tightly in front of his body with the drawstrings of a jacket, and though the autopsy report did not note head trauma, it appeared evident in the accompanying photos. His fingers and hands still had skin on them, though it had slipped a bit, but his swollen, misshapen face was devoid of skin from the scalp to below the chin.

New York medical examiner Mark Flomenbaum, after three weeks of consideration and after learning from the Baltimore police that what was characterized as a suicide note had been found, on Nov. 27, 1992, ruled the case a suicide by drowning. He attributed the condition of the body to the postmortem effects of floating in the water.

City Paper published photos from Hinton’s autopsy, with his family’s permission, in the 1996 article titled “Dead in the Water.” It explored a variety of facts that Flomenbaum did not have at his disposal when he made the suicide ruling, including the contents of the letter he left for his family and the very suspicious circumstances involving Hinton and Gasque that occurred the week he disappeared. Those circumstances involved accusations that together they robbed a drug dealer in West Baltimore, and that federal law enforcers suspected Gasque was protecting a drug organization known for torturing and robbing other drug dealers. It took years of investigating before, ultimately, nothing came of the accusations against Gasque and Hinton.

The members of Sean Hinton’s family, though, say they have no doubt that he was murdered before he shared information about unaddressed police corruption. The story is fact in the Hintons’ minds, even if it never can be proven. And their interpretation of the fact that the BPD mounted a 21-gun salute at Sean Hinton’s funeral–a rare police honor–is that they’re not the only ones who believe Hinton was killed in the line of duty.

Not so the jurors, who learn nothing of the family’s story, nor of the facts about Sean Hinton’s death. They also have no expert testimony to explain the female DNA in the bite mark–though Stanton, in closing arguments, assures them that it was attributable to contamination during Williams’ medical treatment. And she points out that, at the end of his confession, Hinton apologized–something, she argues, an innocent suspect would not do. After four hours of deliberation, the 12 jurors unanimously decide Hinton’s confession was true and voluntary, and on May 5, 2008, they convict him on all counts.

On July 21, Ronald Hinton is sentenced to life in prison, plus 25 years. He files an appeal the same day, and in June he sends a letter from jail to the Innocence Project, a group that uses DNA and evidence of false confessions to work for the release of innocent convicts. To date, Toney says, Hinton has not heard from the organization.

“If the DNA matched, I would accept that he did this,” Francine Toney says of the case. “It doesn’t, so I still believe he said he did it because he’s so afraid of the police.”

If the appeal succeeds, Hinton might get a crack at another jury. If not, he’s in for the long haul, serving life for the rape and murder of a child–crimes that tend to put an inmate convicted of them in low esteem among fellow prisoners. If he didn’t do it, that’s a particularly hard position to be in. If he did, well, prison authorities are responsible for keeping him safe, as best they can.

“I got a letter from him,” Toney explains over the phone on July 25. “He’s in a cell by himself, with two shelves and a bed. The bed is comfortable, and there’s enough room for him to pace back and forth and pray to God.”

She starts to cry. “It hurts me, because I feel so helpless now that I can’t help him. It’s so sad. Ja’niya is gone, and that hurts me, too. But what about the DNA? The prosecutor said [to the jury] don’t worry about the DNA, the DNA doesn’t matter in this case. Well, what’s so different about Ronald’s case?

“I am so tired of the falsehoods about my family–my husband killed himself, Ronald did this to Ja’niya, Ronald is abusive. I am just not going to accept it. If the DNA matched, I’d have no choice to accept it. But it didn’t, and I won’t accept it.”

Ja’niya Williams’ father, John Williams, speaks to a reporter on July 26, while working at his job as a drug-store security guard. He has no doubts whatsoever that Hinton did it. Asked about prior wounds on his daughter’s body, especially any bite marks, Williams says: “I know about that. She got bit on her arm, playing with her cousin a few days before,” indicating his left bicep. When informed that others observed older bites and bruises at other locations, and that the jury did not hear about that evidence, Williams sticks to his guns. He’s 100-percent certain they’ve got the culprit behind bars.

“That boy boxed himself in,” Williams observes. “I would never, ever say I did anything I didn’t do–especially something like that.”

Redemption Song and Dance: Little Melvin Williams Is Not The Deacon He Played On “The Wire”

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Mar. 19, 2008

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“I’m sorry I let you in the door,” Melvin Williams says as he ushers a reporter out of his warehouse office to the sidewalk outside, where the conversation continues. The old gangster has long been called “Little Melvin,” and he’s dressed all in black, save a blue handkerchief wrapped around his ankle that peeks out from below the hem of his left pant leg. He quotes the Bible, chapter and verse, and condemns the visitor as a “troublemaker” and a “snoop,” and he casts himself as “a peacemaker.” Evidence of this last claim comes when he shakes an offered hand as the time comes to say goodbye.

Williams’ righteous indignation is entirely in keeping with his current reputation as the wizened, redeemed OG aiming to keep souls out of the drug game, an image he earned playing a church deacon on the HBO television series The Wire. He’d lived up to his prior persona–the fearsome drug kingpin–until 1996, when he confirms he “saw God.” He then was nearing the end of a lengthy federal prison sentence, begun in the 1980s, for his leadership role in introducing bulk shipments of heroin to Baltimore. Williams became a bail bondsman after his release, but caught a gun conviction in 2000, earning a new 22-year sentence from U.S. District Judge Marvin Garbis. In 2003, though, Garbis removed the career-criminal mantle he’d previously draped over Williams’ shoulders and set him free (“Little Melvin’s Holiday,” The Nose, Jan. 22, 2003). The old gangster’s public redemption was aided further by his Wire appearances as a man of God.

At 66 years old, Williams is boastful of his abilities in math, language, martial arts, and the law–especially the tax code. “I’m a world-class gambler,” he declares repeatedly during the two-hour visit on March 13, saying as well that he remains on federal parole and can’t go 40 miles from Baltimore without permission. It’s not illegal to gamble as long as any gambling income is declared for tax purposes, Williams asserts, offering to bet lunch at Sabatino’s in Little Italy that’s he’s right.

During the cut-short interview, Williams rolls easily with the tough questions about his continuing love of big-money craps games with big-time Baltimore drug dealers like Antoine K. Rich, whose intercepted phone conversations with Williams in 2005 prompted agents to search Williams’ house and seize more than $100,000 in cash, which Garbis later ordered returned. Instead, Williams goes ballistic over a question about his company, Correct Choices Inc., started in 2006 in order to “provide vocational skills training,” according to its incorporation papers. Listed on those papers as a Correct Choices board member is Ed Burns, co-producer of The Wire with David Simon, though that’s news to Burns.

“I’ve never heard of” Correct Choices, Burns says over the phone on March 11, adding that Williams has “never talked to me about something like” having him sit on a board.

When Williams is asked about this, he instantly becomes angry and announces the meeting is over. “I will never [speak] with you again,” he says. He denies the fact that Burns is listed in Correct Choice’s incorporation papers, insisting that the evidence simply doesn’t exist. City Paper has posted the paperwork here [136kb pdf no longer posted, but available in the public record].

Burns takes the situation in stride. “Now I got to see if there is money attached to this board membership thing,” he jokes, and says the whole episode is “just Melvin being Melvin.”

Williams has been a gambler since childhood, and today he’s happy to cop to the currency of this enduring career, saying “Who are you to judge?” when asked how it squares with his man-of-God image. He says his intercepted phone calls in January 2005 with Rich were about craps, not drug-money laundering, as law enforcers alleged. Williams’ conversations with Rich were enough to support a search warrant, and in the predawn hours of March 3, 2005, agents came through the door of Williams’ Randallstown home, recovering $104,703 in cash, including $90,000 found above the ceiling tiles of his basement bathroom, and a device used to detect room bugs. Prosecutors began forfeiture proceedings, claiming the money was actually Rich’s ill-gotten gains, but dropped the case after Williams won a lawsuit in November 2006 to get the money back as “unlawfully seized property,” according to Garbis’ order. Facts about the cash seizure and forfeiture case against Williams were not reported in the press until now.

To Williams, the predawn seizure of cash from his house was yet another example of the government’s corruption. He says that he first experienced it in 1967, when a police officer planted heroin on him to make a bust, and that all law enforcement has done to him since is the “poison fruit” of that first transgression.

“You know why I became a drug dealer?” he asks. “Because that cop put 16 pills of heroin in my pocket. Like Rambo said, they drew first blood. And all I wanted to do after that is sell kilos and kilos, and I know a lot of people died from it, but if they didn’t want a drug dealer, then they shouldn’t have fucked with me.”

Williams came out unscathed in his recent dealings with the government, but Rich was not so successful. Court records show he was indicted in October 2006 as a drug-dealing co-conspirator with the politically connected Rice Organization (“Wired,” Mobtown Beat, March 2, 2005). In August 2007, Rich was convicted under a superceding charge of a single count of drug dealing and sentenced to 87 months in the federal penitentiary.

“The Rice Organization?” Williams asks when Rich’s alleged ties to the notorious traffickers are mentioned. In the case, two brothers–Howard and Raeshio Rice–and a host of others, including Anthony B. Leonard, owner of the now-defunct Downtown Southern Blues restaurant on North Howard Street, were convicted of operating a violent drug business until they were indicted in 2005. Leonard’s landlord at Downtown Southern Blues was Kenneth Antonio “Bird” Jackson, who in the ’80s was a top lieutenant in Williams’ drug organization. Today, Jackson is a politically connected businessman with a strip club in East Baltimore and a sporting-goods store in Edgewood.

Williams maintains he was completely ignorant of any ties Rich and his associates had to the drug trade. “I didn’t know those young men from a can of paint,” Williams says of them, though he recalls joining them for craps games over a six-month period in 2004 and ’05.

“These kids had a lot of money, man,” Williams says. “I don’t care how they got their money and I don’t know. I met them at a filling station, and they said, `That’s the OG, and he’s got all kinds of old-time money.’ We played craps.”

Asked if he knows what Rich and the other craps players are doing today, he says, “I know some of them are in some form of federal confinement.”

At the end of the interview, on the way to the door, Williams changes his tune about his relationship with Rich. “We know each other–now,” he says. “If you’re still here in the next 15 minutes, Rich is going to call.”

Rich’s ties to the politically connected bail bondsman Milton Tillman Jr. were explored at length in a courtroom last fall. Tillman Jr., his son Milton Tillman III, and his business partner Bernard Dixon were acquitted by a Baltimore City Circuit Court jury of charges that they’d criminally manipulated the bond-writing system to get certain key criminal defendants out of jail. Rich was one of them, and the Tillmans admitted making honest mistakes in 2003 by double-posting property to help raise the funds to make Rich’s $2 million bail. But the jury decided no crimes had been committed. Last week City Paper described Tillman Jr.’s business ties to federal fugitive Shawn Michael Green, who has been on the run from a drug and money-laundering indictment for more than a year (“Flight Connections,” Mobtown Beat, March 12), and recapped Tillman Jr.’s criminal convictions for bribery and tax evasion.

Thus, Antoine K. Rich is a nexus to three of the best-known names in Baltimore’s annals of modern crime: Williams, Jackson, and Tillman Jr. Of the three, only Williams enjoys a deaconlike reputation, thanks to The Wire.

Burns, who was a key Baltimore Police Department investigator in sending Williams to prison in the 1980s, says he would be surprised if Williams was caught talking with Rich about how to launder drug proceeds, as federal prosecutors believed.

“They kicked in his door,” Burns says of the 2005 warrant and cash seizure at Williams’ house. “But if Melvin Williams is talking drugs on the phone, he’s either senile or not the man I know. When he talks on the phone, it’s tough to catch him, because he’s extremely cautious. Whether or not he’s in the game, I don’t know. I have no idea what Melvin is up to–though I guess I should,” Burns adds, laughing, “because I’m a board member” of Correct Choices.

David Simon, whose 1987 Sun series about Williams remains the most detailed treatment to date of the drug dealer’s career, says he too knows nothing of what Williams has been doing recently.

“I have not the slightest knowledge of Mr. Williams’ current affairs,” Simon writes in a March 13 e-mail. He explains that Williams’ theatrical skills won him a role in The Wire, and that he was cast as the deacon “because it seemed . . . that his involvement with Bethel African Methodist Church constituted a new phase in his life.” Simon adds that he has “no regrets whatsoever” for collaborating with Williams, and that he hopes that Williams’ “retirement from previous pursuits is an enduring one.”

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Grave Accusations: Dead Prosecutor Luna Dubbed Bondsman Tillman Jr. a “Violent Drug Dealer”

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Apr. 23, 2008

In May 2002, federal prosecutor Jonathan Paul Luna stood up in a Baltimore courtroom and called bail-bondsman Milton Tillman Jr. a “violent drug dealer,” even though Tillman Jr. hadn’t–and still hasn’t–been convicted of violent, drug-related crimes. Luna was not yet famous; that would come after his violent death in a rural Pennsylvania stream, in December 2003. But Tillman Jr. was and is famous, at least locally, a fact that was part of Luna’s point: In gangland Baltimore, he argued, Tillman Jr.’s role as the patriarch of a drug-dealing family strikes fear in the hearts of other gangsters.

The case at hand was against Eric Lamont Bennett’s drug organization, which had operated in the late 1990s in Baltimore and Westminster, and the crimes Luna was prosecuting included the East Baltimore shooting, in 2000, of Tillman Jr.’s son, Milton Tillman III, nicknamed “Mo.” The violence erupted over a drug deal gone bad, and though Mo survived, two other men were murdered before the night was out.

By May 2002, Luna had won convictions against men held responsible for these and other crimes, including Bennett, Solomon Jones, and Tavon Bradley. The three have since won appeals and Jones and Bradley been reconvicted and resentenced. Bennett was scheduled to be resentenced on April 18, but the hearing was postponed and has not yet been rescheduled.

The three convicts had been part of a team of drug dealers who had sold Mo and two other buyers a bag of baking soda for $3,000 on Jan. 18, 2000. Before Mo and his friends could learn they’d been burned, Bennett’s gang went gunning for them. Luna asserted that, having robbed Tillman Jr.’s son, they figured they were as good as dead unless they struck first.

Luna based his comments on the trial testimony of Damien Simmons, the man who shot Mo three times in the back and became a cooperating witness against Bennett and the others, and on a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration memo. That document, dated March 2000, called Tillman Jr. the head of a crime family with a 20-year history in the East Baltimore heroin trade and warned that the then-imprisoned Tillman Jr. appeared to be conspiring to hit back at Bennett and his crew.

The portrait of Tillman Jr. painted by Luna at Bennett’s first sentencing hearing complicates Tillman Jr.’s public persona, which has been forged by years of press coverage. News consumers would think Tillman Jr. is simply a politically connected bail-bondsman, real-estate investor, and nightclub impresario with convictions in the 1990s for attempted bribery and tax evasion. Luna’s statements about Tillman Jr., which have not been disclosed in news reports until now, get at the Tillman family’s street-level reputation as a force to be reckoned with in Baltimore’s drug-fueled shadow economy.

Luna’s focus on Tillman Jr. does not discount the alleged criminal career of at least one other family member: Stanford Stansbury. After Tillman III was shot in 2000 and thought he might die from his injuries, court records show, he told detectives that his cousin Stanford Stansbury would know the last name of “Ericky,” the man Tillman III believed to be responsible for the shooting. Last March, Stansbury and two other men, Harry Burton and Allen Gill, were federally indicted for running a murderous, decade-long drug conspiracy based at the Latrobe Homes housing project in East Baltimore. Today, Stansbury has secured a guilty-plea agreement in which he is a cooperating witness against Burton and Gill, whom prosecutors are seeking to give the death penalty in a trial scheduled for June.

Stansbury’s lawyer, Stuart O. Simms, a former Baltimore City state’s attorney and former secretary of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, did not return a call for comment. Simms, as city state’s attorney in the 1980s, oversaw probes into Tillman Jr.’s suspected criminal activities. In 2006, New Trend Development, Tillman Jr.’s main real-estate company, contributed money to Simms’ failed run for Maryland attorney general.

The Tillman family’s business dealings drew public attention during a trial last year in which a jury determined that Tillman Jr., his son, and the other defendant, Bernard Dixon, did not intend to post multiple bails on properties in order to spring high-bail defendants out of lockup, as state criminal charges had contended. Since March, City Paper has published five articles in which Tillman Jr. was part of the story. Two were about a fugitive drug trafficker (“Flight Connections,” Mobtown Beat, March 12; “One Angry Man,” Mobtown Beat, March 26); one was about a felonious, bounty-hunting minister (“Preacher, Teacher, Forger, Spy,” Feature, April 16); another covered the Baltimore City Board of Liquor License Commissioners’ scant control over criminals influencing the city’s bar business (“Creative Licensing,” Mobtown Beat, April 9); and one second-guessed the deaconlike image of a former heroin trafficker (“Redemption Song and Dance,” Mobtown Beat, March 19).

Tillman Jr.’s success in bail bonds and real estate appears to have soared since his release from prison in 2000. His Four Aces Bail Bonds has rapidly put a large dent in the dominance of the Baltimore City bail-bonds market traditionally enjoyed by Fred W. Frank Bail Bonds. “There is no question he has affected our business,” company President Barry Udoff confirms. New Trend Development, related businesses, and Tillman Jr. associates have acquired nearly $10 million in Baltimore-area real-estate holdings since 2000, according to property records. Meanwhile, Tillman Jr.’s political clout has also grown, as measured by the thousands of dollars in donations from Four Aces and New Trend to local politicians since his release from prison.

Luna’s career was cut short by his death in Pennsylvania in early December 2003. His body was found before dawn, drowned in a stream in Lancaster County, midway between Philadelphia and Harrisburg along the Pennsylvania Turnpike. He’d been stabbed dozens of times, though not deeply, and his car sat idling close by. He had last been seen late the night before at his downtown Baltimore office. The local authorities deemed it a homicide, while the FBI leaked information to the press suggesting it was suicide, but the case remains unsolved. A book has been written about it, The Midnight Ride of Jonathan Luna (“Plot Device,” Books, Feb. 23, 2005), and U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, continues to press for progress in getting it solved.

The Bennett prosecution was but a piece of Luna’s caseload against violent drug dealers, and it was over a year and a half before Luna died. There is nothing to suggest that the mysteries surrounding Luna’s death are in any way tied to Tillman Jr. or members of his family.

Luna’s insights into the Tillmans in the Bennett case gives the public an evidentiary record that the family was in the drug game. “Let me speak very frankly,” Luna said, according to the court transcript. “It is not news to most people in this courtroom that Mr. Tillman is the son of one of the most notorious drug dealers in Baltimore City history. That is a fact.” Luna also said that “there is no question that Mr. Tillman’s father is a reputed drug dealer, a violent type of guy.”

Underscoring Luna’s contention was a March 2000 DEA memo stating that the agency’s “investigation into the Tillman family has revealed that the family has been active for the past 20 years in the Baltimore, East-side based, heroin traffic. Milton Tillman, Jr., the patriarch, is currently in the last six months of a Federal prison sentence in Butner, North Carolina for tax evasion. Phone conversations made by Tillman, Jr., from . . . Butner to his son and associates indicate that a retaliatory strike against the Bennett organization is imminent.”

The Bennett trial testimony of Damien Simmons, the man who shot Tillman III, also supported Luna’s statements that Tillman Jr. was known as a feared, high-level player in the drug game. The trial transcript shows that Simmons answered “Yes,” when asked if Bennett told him to shoot Tillman III and his associates because of whom Tillman III’s father is. Simmons pleaded guilty to his part in the Bennett organization’s crimes and is scheduled for release from federal prison in 2017.

“Jon Luna wasn’t just relying on the DEA memo when he said these things about Tillman Jr.,” recalls defense attorney Harvey Greenberg, who represented Jones in the Bennett case. “He also had Simmons’ testimony. Luna was trying to be frank about the background of the shooting and what prompted it. He was being open and honest, and telling what he knew to be true with evidence to back it up.”

Tillman Jr. did not respond to detailed messages left at his office and with his attorney, Greg Dorsey. U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Marcia Murphy says her agency would not comment about Luna’s statements regarding Tillman Jr., and also would not respond to questions involving the Bennett or Stansbury cases, because “we don’t discuss our charging decisions or prosecution strategy.”

Some of the politicians who have received campaign support from Tillman Jr.’s companies, however, did respond to City Paper‘s inquiries. “I did?!” Baltimore County Circuit Court Associate Judge Mickey Norman exclaims, when told his judicial campaign committee in 2005 got money from one of Tillman Jr.’s companies. “I honestly don’t know about that,” Norman says, explaining that judges’ campaigns are set up so the judges themselves are insulated from the fundraising process and have little, if any, knowledge of who’s supporting their candidacies.

“Did I?” Baltimore City Deputy Mayor and former state delegate Salima Siler Marriott asks when told about Tillman Jr.’s donation to her campaign. She says she doesn’t know the man, either by name or personally. Messages left with nine other politicians–eight of them Democrats, including Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith; House of Delegates Majority Whip Talmadge Branch (45th District); Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot; former Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich; and Sen. Nathaniel McFadden (45th District), the chairman of the Baltimore City state Senate delegation–were not returned by press time.

Greenberg, however, is intrigued by City Paper‘s inquiries, suggesting that what Luna had to say about Tillman Jr. is already widely recognized among lawyers, law enforcers, and others familiar with the local crime scene. “Do you find Luna’s comments remarkable?” he asks. “Because I don’t.”

Additional reporting by Jeffrey Anderson And Chris Landers