By Amanda Burdette
ANNAPOLIS – Ruling that the accused did not receive a fair trial, the Maryland Court of Appeals Tuesday reversed the double- murder conviction of Darris Ware, who was sentenced to death for the 1993 gunshot slayings in Anne Arundel County of Bettina Krista Gentry and Cynthia Allen.
Maryland’s highest court, in an opinion by Judge Irma Raker, chided the prosecution for failing to release information about their key witnesses, Edward Anderson. The suppressed evidence was relevant because Anderson was the only witness to the crimes and his testimony determined whether the crime was premeditated, Raker wrote.
Anderson, who was Allen’s husband, said in his testimony at the trial that he was on the phone with Allen when Gentry was shot.
At the time, Anderson was serving a life sentence for first- degree murder. Court documents show he made a deal with Tania Porter, a lawyer trying to get his sentence changed, that if he testified at Ware’s trial he would be moved to another prison for safety reasons.
Anderson had also consulted with Gerald Anders, the prosecutor in Ware’s case, five months before the trial in an attempt to lighten his sentence, according to court documents.
But the Court of Appeals pointed out that Anderson’s credibility could have been damaged if the jury had known about the Anderson’s deal-making.
Nancy Forster, a public defender who represented Ware, said the witness could have been impeached because he had “a motive to testify falsely to get his sentence reduced.”
Anderson testified at his hearing to modify his prison sentence that he only heard two shots over the phone. But, at Ware’s trial, he testified that he heard two shots, a pause and then a third shot – showing premeditation, Forster said.
“This shows consciousness that [Ware] knew what he was doing. If they had known this [the defense] could have made him look like a liar,” Forster said.
Ware’s lawyers, in the appellant’s brief, stated that the defense shouldn’t have been expected to know about Anderson’s relationship with the prosecution.
The state countered that it did not have to provide the information, given that it was public record and could have been found with “reasonable diligence.”
But the Court of Appeals said the evidence was withheld and pertinent to the case.
“Ware did not have access to facts” that would have allowed him to strike Anderson’s testimony from the case by impeaching the witness, Raker wrote.
Raker also stated that although the state may not have had a firm agreement to lessen Anderson’s sentence, there was “a strong inference that Anderson expected the State’s assistance.”
The Court of Appeals sent the case back for a new trial to Howard County, where Forster said the original trial was held at the defense’s request. The cost will be paid by Anne Arundel County. -30-