ANNAPOLIS – The Court of Special Appeals upheld attempted armed carjacking and kidnapping convictions of man who complained that Prince George’s County Police let the victim identify him when “he looked as if he was … being handcuffed.”
A three-judge panel of the court on Tuesday also rejected Charles Henry Gentry III’s argument that his statements to police were given when he was high on PCP and crack and should not have been allowed at his trial.
The case began Jan. 27, 1997, when a man with a gun approached Saritha Winstead as she loaded groceries in her car at a Giant Food parking lot near Birchwood City.
The man demanded that Winstead open the door and slide into the passenger seat so he could drive. But Winstead got out of the car instead, struggled with the man and managed to run away.
She ran to a nearby police officer to report the attack and gave a detailed description of her attacker. Within 20 minutes, police had arrested a man fitting the description.
When police brought Winstead to look at the suspect, Gentry was up against a car and “looked as if he was in the process of being handcuffed,” according to court documents. She identified Gentry as her attacker when they drove closer and he looked her in the eye.
Police charged Gentry with attempted armed carjacking, attempted carjacking, attempted kidnapping, assault and attempted car theft.
Gentry testified in his own defense, claiming that he was in the area to meet a friend for a drug deal. While waiting for the friend, he said, he smoked PCP and walked to the nearby Giant, where he found a spot to shoot at some bottles with his BB gun.
While there, he said, he thought he saw someone he knew in a car. He approached with his BB gun drawn, knocked on the car window and told the woman in the car to roll down the window.
He soon realized that he did not know the woman and, when the two began to struggle over the gun, he realized “I’m in some trouble right now” and ran away, according to court documents.
A Prince George’s Circuit Court jury convicted him on all counts. He got concurrent 30-year sentences for the carjacking and kidnapping convictions, with 10 years of each sentence suspended.
Before trial, Gentry tried to have Winstead’s identification of him suppressed, saying it was “impermissibly suggestive” of police to have her identify him while he was “leaning over the car,” apparently about to be handcuffed. Police disagreed on whether he was actually handcuffed at the time Winstead identified him.
The motion was denied by the circuit court and the appeals court Tuesday upheld the lower court. The appellate court said Winstead had close contact with Gentry during the struggle and that the brief time between the crime and the identification made for a more positive ID.
There was not “a substantial likelihood of misidentification,” said the opinion by Judge James A. Kenney III.
The appeals court also upheld the lower court’s finding that Gentry’s statements to police were made voluntarily.
Gentry claimed he was high at the time he made the statements and that police threatened to “woop” him if he gave the wrong answers to their questions. But police testified that they made no threats and that Gentry showed no signs of PCP use when he was being questioned.
Assistant Attorney General Emmet Davitt had not seen the ruling Tuesday, but said he was pleased by the decision. Gentry’s attorney could not be reached for comment Tuesday.