Convicted double-murderer Scotland E. Williams won’t get his hands on FBI files that may have helped convict him in the 1994 deaths of Jose E. Trias and Julie N. Gilbert.
The U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals last week upheld a lower court’s ruling that state courts do not have the authority to compel the FBI to turn over files it makes in cooperation with local investigators.
The FBI, at the request of state officials, assisted in the investigation of the murders of Trias and Gilbert, two prominent Washington lawyers who were shot in the back of the head while they lay in bed in their weekend home near Annapolis.
Williams claimed in court documents that the FBI files contain evidence that could be used in an appeal to prove that he did not kill Trias and Gilbert. Williams, whose first conviction and death sentence in the case were overturned, is currently serving a life sentence with no parole for the slayings.
His public defender, Nancy Susanne Forster, argued that Williams is entitled to see files that could contain evidence that he is not guilty.
“We want to see what other suspects the FBI was looking at,” Forster said. “They (FBI agents) were acting on behalf of the prosecutors so we should have access to it. It’s a matter of local disclosure and when the FBI wants to get involved, they should be subject to the same rules.”
But a three-judge panel of the appeals court agreed with prosecutors that Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Pamela L. North “lacked jurisdiction to compel the FBI to produce its files.”
North had issued a subpoena to the FBI for the records. She had not seen the decision and declined comment Tuesday, her staff said.
Kaye Allison, chief of civil and financial litigation for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Baltimore, said that Williams might have received the files he wanted if he had gone through the proper procedures. She said Williams was told he must state what specific records he wanted, and why, “but he refused to comply.”
Anne Arundel Assistant State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess called Forster’s case is an attempt to set a new precedent for state access to federal agency files.
“The FBI wasn’t looking for anybody else. There were no other suspects because they weren’t investigating,” Leitess said. She said the work done by the FBI was mostly lab work and fingerprinting.
FBI Special Agent Frank Gulotti declined to comment, referring calls to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
But Forster has not given up. She said she plans to appeal to the Supreme Court, a move that Leitess called “laughable.”
“We have a defendant facing the death penalty. You don’t get more serious than that,” Forster said.
“I don’t think that it should be the FBI’s job to make it difficult for him to get the information that he was entitled to in the beginning,” she said. “This is a case that FBI willingly got into on behalf of the prosecutors and then they wanted to close their files and run away.”