- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 12, 2004

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — A statement given by a man charged in the carjacking and killing of an Annapolis man cannot be used at his trial, Maryland’s highest court ruled yesterday.

The Court of Appeals said the statement by Leeander Jerome Blake acknowledging his involvement in the killing of Straughan Lee Griffin was inadmissible as evidence because it was made after Mr. Blake said he wanted to talk to a lawyer before being interrogated.

Mr. Griffin, 51, was shot in the head in September 2002 and then apparently was run over with his sport-utility vehicle as the two attackers sped away. The killing occurred outside Mr. Griffin’s home, two blocks from the state Capitol.

Mr. Blake, who was 17 at the time of the killing, and Terrence Tolbert were charged with the murder.

Mr. Blake initially refused to talk to police when he was arrested and taken to jail. When a police officer delivered a copy of the charging documents to Mr. Blake listing death as a possible penalty, another officer told him, “I bet you want to talk now, huh?”

About a half-hour later, Mr. Blake told police that he did want to talk to them and made incriminating statements about the killing without consulting a lawyer.

At Mr. Blake’s trial in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, Judge Pamela North ruled that his statements could not be used because he was questioned even though he had not waived his Miranda right to consult with a lawyer before he was interrogated.

The Court of Special Appeals later reversed Judge North’s ruling in a split decision and said the statements could be used, but the Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that Judge North was correct.

The state’s highest court rejected arguments by prosecutors that Mr. Blake voluntarily gave up his right to remain silent after he received a copy of the charging document.

The court noted that the document said Mr. Blake was eligible for the death penalty even though he could not be executed because state law prohibits capital punishment for anyone who is younger than 18 when a crime is committed.

“When the charging document was given to petitioner, containing a false statement of the law with respect to the penalty of death, it was accompanied by an officer’s statement that served no legitimate purpose other than to encourage petitioner to speak,” the court said.

The comment — “I bet you want to talk now, huh?” — was a functional equivalent of interrogation, the appeals court said.

“We hold that all statements made by petitioner after he invoked his Miranda rights are inadmissible, and the motion to suppress the statement was properly granted,” the court said.

Prosecutors said they had not seen the ruling on Wednesday morning and had no immediate comment. But they had welcomed the Court of Special Appeals decision, saying at the time they might have to drop charges if they could not use Mr. Blake’s statements.

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