- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 2, 2002

BALTIMORE (AP) The city has lowered its homicide rate since the late 1990s, but mistakes in murder investigations and insufficient evidence lead to nearly half of all murder defendants being set free, according to a published newspaper report.
Almost half of all homicide defendants never serve jail time, or they serve short sentences on reduced charges, according to an 18-month investigation by the Baltimore Sun reported Sunday.
Between 1997 and the end of 2001, only 32 percent of killings resulted in the arrest and conviction of a suspect on murder charges.
The victims included a carpet installer who was stomped, chain-whipped and left to die in a heap of garbage; a police officer who was mowed down by truck driven by a teenage drug dealer; and a Korean grocer who was shot through the spine in front of his wife during a $400 robbery.
In each case, the suspects walked out of court free men.
The newspaper's computer analysis showed that of the 1,449 killings committed in the city between 1997 and the end of last year, 32 percent resulted in the arrest and conviction of a suspect on murder charges.
In the remaining 68 percent, no one was arrested, or the suspects who were arrested either went free or served short jail terms on lesser charges.
In 37 percent of the 1,449 murders, no one was ever charged; in 7 percent of the cases, a suspect was charged, but the charges were dropped; in 12 percent, the suspects were acquitted in court; and in the remaining 12 percent, a suspect was convicted of a lesser charge.
In the cases of lesser charges, the defendants were sentenced to slightly more than two years in jail. They typically were eligible for parole or immediate release on the day they were convicted, because they had spent several months in detention waiting for a trial.
Further analysis showed that at least 83 defendants charged with homicide and later released were subsequently re-arrested for new crimes including 24 indicted in fresh murders or attempted murders.
"This will come as a shock to most people in Baltimore, because the conventional wisdom is that a lot more is being done to get these guys off the street than is really going on," said Judge John Prevas, who presides over murder cases in Baltimore's Circuit Court.
The largest causes of the murders going unsolved were a decline in the quality of basic police work; a feud between the mayor and State's Attorney's Office; an increasing reluctance among witnesses to come forward; and deepening cynicism among jurors about the credibility of police on the witness stand.
The city also had an unprecedented surge in retirements in the Police Department that took experienced officers out and threw the Criminal Investigations Bureau into disarray.
Because of so many weak cases being submitted, the State's Attorney's Office has dropped charges against 23 percent of first-degree murder suspects over the past five years.
"Number one," Judge Prevas said, "it is the department that is not giving the prosecution a good case."
Mayor Martin O'Malley objected, saying police are not responsible for crimes being committed.
"All of us have responsibilities, and none of us who are part of the criminal justice system run perfect agencies," the mayor said.
"What has resulted in the agony is the influx of heroin and cocaine, which the Police Department did not ship to this city, and did not administer up the nostrils of our citizens, OK? The police department did not shoot 300-plus young men every year, OK?"
He added: "Please don't tell me the police are responsible for all the agony in this town."

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