- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 2, 2003

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland’s highest court will hear the appeal of charges against two young men from Annapolis whose confessions were thrown out before they could go to trial on murder charges.

On Feb. 9, the Court of Appeals will hear about the confessions of Terrence Tolbert, 20, and Leeander Jerome Blake, 18, in the Sept. 19, 2002, slaying of Straughan Lee Griffin, 51, also of Annapolis.

The men’s confessions, which two Anne Arundel Circuit Court judges ruled were obtained improperly, accuse each other of the fatal shooting and of the theft of Mr. Griffin’s 2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee, said Kristin Riggin, information officer for the Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney’s Office.

The two were released from jail when prosecutors decided to appeal the judges’ decisions. A 1982 state law calls for the release of suspects while appeals are heard. Several Maryland legislators plan to revise that law when the General Assembly convenes next month.

Police investigators said two men approached Mr. Griffin in the evening as he unloaded groceries from his car on Cumberland Court near the Maryland State House. One man shot Mr. Griffin in the head. His car keys were taken from his pocket.

The men got into the Jeep and drove to the end of the dead-end street, turned around, came back and ran over Mr. Griffin’s body, police said.

Police were led to Mr. Tolbert after a woman in a shop on nearby Maryland Avenue reported seeing two men — one with only one arm — talking near the shop a few minutes before the shooting. Mr. Tolbert was 8 years old when he lost his right arm when it came into contact a 13,000-volt electrical transformer.

Mr. Tolbert and Mr. Blake were neighbors in the Robinwood public-housing complex. Mr. Tolbert was arrested Oct. 25, 2002. Early the next morning, police arrested Mr. Blake at gunpoint.

According to court records, Mr. Blake, wearing only his underwear, was handcuffed and taken to jail. He was advised of his Miranda rights, including the right to have an attorney present while being questioned, and he initialed the documents.

Placed in a “cold holding cell,” Mr. Blake, 30 minutes later, was shown police charging documents that said a murder conviction could result in the death penalty, court papers say.

“I bet you want to talk now, huh?” said police Detective William Johns. The detective later was criticized by his superiors.

A few minutes later, Mr. Blake was given clothes, and he said, “Can I still talk to you?” and then made a confession without an attorney present, court papers showed.

That was the basis in June for Circuit Judge Pamela L. North to throw out Mr. Blake’s confession.

In September, Circuit Judge Ronald A. Silkworth threw out part of Mr. Tolbert’s confession after hearing about the administration of a lie-detector test.

Police said Mr. Tolbert agreed to questioning without an attorney present and a polygraph test. The examiner, Maryland State Police Cpl. Lloyd Edward White Jr., told Mr. Tolbert that the test showed some deceptions, court records showed.

“Does that machine tell you I did it?” Mr. Tolbert reportedly said.

Judge Silkworth, in effect, ruled that Mr. Tolbert “should have been re-Mirandized,” Ms. Riggin said.

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