- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 22, 2003

A bipartisan group of Anne Arundel County delegates said they will introduce in next year’s Maryland General Assembly a bill that would allow judges to keep suspected criminals in custody during appeals.

The proposed bill would close a loophole that forced two Anne Arundel County judges to release two murder suspects who had confessed to fatally shooting a 51-year-old Annapolis businessman last year.

“It cries out for correction,” said Delegate John R. Leopold, a Republican. “It had always been my understanding that judges had wide latitude and discretion … I was shocked to learn that this loophole exists. Clearly, it must be corrected.”

Mr. Leopold said the legislation will be filed no later than early December.

Delegates Herbert H. McMillan, a Republican, and Virginia P. Clagett and Theodore J. Sophocleus, both Democrats, are co-sponsoring the legislation.

“I co-sponsored the bill because I don’t think we want to find ourselves in that situation again,” Mr. McMillan said, adding that the legislation “restores balance to the law.”

“Right now I think the law is too heavily weighted toward the rights of the criminals,” he said.

Murder suspects Terrence Tolbert and Leeander Jerome Blake were set free this year after having been detained for and charged with the slaying of Straughan Lee Griffith, 51, who was shot in the head and run over by his own Jeep Grand Cherokee during a carjacking outside his home on Sept. 19, 2002.

Both confessed to the crime, each blaming the other, but county judges released them due to several technicalities in their cases, which prosecutors appealed.

State law requires judges to free suspects during appeals to halt frivolous court actions that could undermine a person’s right to due process.

Circuit Judge Ronald A. Silkworth released Mr. Tolbert in September, saying police did not read him his Miranda rights a second time after he had begun to confess.

Circuit Judge Pamela L. North released Mr. Blake in June because Annapolis police did not allow him to have an attorney present after he had begun to confess.

Early last week, Mr. Blake was taken into custody after a state Court of Special Appeals panel overturned Judge North’s ruling last month. He is being held without bond until his Feb. 9 appeal date.

Mr. Tolbert remains free until a Court of Special Appeals panel hears his case, which has not yet been scheduled.

Judges Silkworth and North were appointed by former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat.

The proposed legislation would not apply to the Blake and Tolbert cases, Mr. Leopold said.

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