- The Washington Times - Monday, March 23, 2009

BALTIMORE

Opening statements are scheduled for Monday in the capital murder trial of a Baltimore man accused of using a contraband cell phone from jail to orchestrate the slaying of a witness against him.

Patrick A. Byers Jr. was indicted in federal court in the slaying of Carl S. Lackl Jr. after prosecutors decided that was their best chance to secure a conviction.

Mr. Lackl, who had identified Mr. Byers as the gunman in a previous slaying, was fatally shot outside his home in a case that was shocking even for Baltimore, where witness intimidation is a pervasive problem.

Lawyers have spent the past two weeks selecting a jury for the trial in U.S. District Court, a process that has attracted attention for the unusual steps taken to protect jurors.

Judge Richard D. Bennett ruled before jury selection began that the identities of potential jurors would be kept from lawyers on both sides. The judge wrote that revealing jurors’ names might jeopardize their safety.

He also denied a motion filed by Mr. Byers’ attorneys asking that the ruling be reconsidered. Anonymous juries are rare but not unprecedented in murder trials in federal court.

At the request of lawyers on both sides, the courtroom was closed to the public and the media during most of the jury-selection process. The move was challenged unsuccessfully by an attorney for two Baltimore television stations.

Judge Bennett said closing the courtroom was necessary “to get candid answers from jurors for the purposes of jury selection,” said Nathan Siegel, the attorney for the stations, WBAL-TV and WMAR-TV.

A. Eduardo Balarezo, one of Mr. Byers’ attorneys, said a jury was expected to be seated Monday, with opening statements to follow.

Last week, Mr. Byers added a third attorney to his team: Stuart O. Simms, a former Baltimore state’s attorney and secretary of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

Mr. Byers maintains his innocence in Mr. Lackl’s slaying. Karen Cole, Mr. Byers’ mother, said outside of the court during jury selection that her son was being treated unfairly.

“My son is not a monster,” she told WJZ-TV. “He’s a human being. They treat him like he’s a monster.”

Mr. Lackl, a 38-year-old single father, was killed July 2007 in a drive-by shooting outside his Rosedale home. He’d been lured outside with phone calls about a car he was trying to sell.

The slaying came eight days before Mr. Byers was set to be tried for the 2006 slaying of Larry Haynes, with Mr. Lackl as the star witness. Mr. Byers reportedly paid $2,500 for the hit on Mr. Lackl, according to the federal indictment. Charges against Mr. Byers were dropped in Mr. Haynes’ death.

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