A federal judge yesterday threw out half the felony charges faced by two Metropolitan Police Department detectives accused of trying to sway witness accounts in a high-profile homicide investigation.
Federal prosecutors in March indicted detectives Erick Brown and Milagros Morales on charges that they tried to get witnesses to pin a 2005 fatal stabbing at Club U in Northwest on a man who was involved but did not commit the crime.
But in a 31-page ruling yesterday, U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly tossed four of the eight counts pending against the detectives.
All four of the dismissed counts charged the detectives with conspiracy to obstruct justice, including a charge that the pair gave bad information to a prosecutor assigned to the case.
Judge Kollar-Kotelly essentially ruled that the detectives could not be charged federally with obstructing an "official proceeding" because the D.C. Superior Court grand jury investigating the Club U stabbing was not a federal grand jury.
According to the judge, the detectives "did not allegedly obstruct a 'federal grand jury" such that they cannot be charged with obstructing an 'official proceeding" " under federal law.
"We"re pleased with the judge"s ruling, and we look forward to vigorously contesting the remaining counts," Brian Heberlig, attorney for Mr. Brown, said yesterday.
Both detectives have pleaded not guilty and remain on administrative leave.
The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney"s Office in West Virginia after the U.S. Attorney"s Office in the District recused itself from the investigation.
According to the indictment, the detectives tried to get witnesses to pin the Feb. 13, 2005, fatal stabbing of Club U patron Terrence Brown on Jerome Jones, who reportedly was seen with a box cutter during a scuffle at the now-closed nightclub.
Jones was convicted of simple assault and obstruction of justice and sentenced to more than seven years in prison, but he was not charged in the killing. Forensic evidence in the case showed that a box cutter could not have caused the 3½-inch stab wound that killed Mr. Brown, court records show.
However, Judge Kollar-Kotelly declined to dismiss four other counts in the indictment. One count charged the detectives with conspiracy against civil rights, which carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
The remaining three counts of the indictment charged the detectives with making false statements, which carry up to five years in prison.