WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court let stand the conviction of a former Baltimore police officer who was accused of making false claims of consumer product tampering.
The court, without comment, refused Monday to consider Larry Donnell Wellington’s claim that the federal district judge in his 2002 trial wrongly rejected his efforts to strike several jurors, leaving him with a predominantly white jury. Wellington is black.
The case began on Nov. 25, 2000, when Wellington called Prince George’s County emergency dispatchers and said his 3-year-old son had been poisoned. He said the boy experienced abdominal pain and began vomiting after taking a drink from a fruit-drink bottle.
When rescue personnel arrived, Wellington showed them a Fruitopia bottle. He told them, and later told doctors at Children’s Hospital in Washington, that the bottle had been closed and that he had cracked open the tamper-resistant cap before giving it to the boy.
But court documents said the bottle actually contained a blue toilet freshener from a bus company where Wellington, a Baltimore City police officer at the time, was moonlighting. Had the child consumed that liquid, he would have sustained severe injuries, but a firefighter, an emergency medical technician, and two Children’s Hospital doctors testified that there was no evidence that the child had been injured or even vomited.
Wellington was indicted in February 2002 for making a false claim of consumer-product tampering and making false statements to the Food and Drug Administration. He was convicted in August 2002 on one count of communicating false information regarding taint of a consumer product, one count of obstruction of an FDA investigation and two counts of making false statements to the FDA.
Wellington is currently serving a 27-month jail term for the convictions. He was removed from the police force, where he had been an officer since 1996.
Francis A. Pommett III, Wellington’s lawyer, said Friday that his client’s chances at a fair trial were shot during jury selection when the district judge rejected his efforts to eliminate four possible jurors, saying their explanations for the strikes were not reasonable. Pommett said that tipped the balance against Wellington.
But the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected that argument on Dec. 16 and the Supreme Court on Monday let that decision stand.
Neither the Justice Department nor the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maryland would comment on the case. Pommett could not be reached Tuesday.
-30- CNS 04-20-04