WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court agreed Monday to consider the case of an Annapolis murder suspect who was freed after lower courts said a police officer’s apparently off-hand comment violated the man’s Miranda rights.
Leeander J. Blake was arrested in 2002 in connection with the murder of Straughan L. Griffin, who was carjacked, shot and run over in front of his home in the Annapolis historic district.
After his arrest, Blake was advised of his rights and, at the police station, told that police would not talk to him without an attorney, after which he was put in a holding cell.
About a half-hour later, Annapolis Police Department Detective William Johns gave Blake a copy of his arrest warrant and statement of charges, as required by law. It said he could be eligible for the death penalty. But Blake was actually not eligible for the death penalty under Maryland law, because he was 17 at the time of his arrest.
At that point, according to court documents, Officer Curtis Reese, a uniformed officer who was not involved with the case, said to Blake, “I bet you want to talk now, huh?”
Johns replied, “No, he doesn’t want to talk to us. He already asked for a lawyer. We cannot talk to him now,” and walked Reese out of the room.
But when Johns returned to the cell about a half-hour later to deliver some clothes, Blake asked if he could speak to the officers. He was reminded of his rights, but agreed to waive his right to an attorney and speak to the officers.
Court documents say that during the interrogation that followed, Blake made incriminating statements about his conduct the night of the murder, and agreed to take a polygraph examination, during which more incriminating statements were made.
But before his trial, Blake argued that those statements should be suppressed because he was improperly questioned by police after he originally asked to have an attorney. The circuit court agreed and threw out that evidence.
The Court of Special Appeals reversed that decision and allowed the evidence back in, but the Maryland Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court’s decision and said the evidence should be excluded.
Blake was released in June after Court of Appeals’ ruling.
The state appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court, asking it to consider what the state can do to correct a violation of a suspect’s rights and let that suspect voluntarily speak to officers.
Maryland law currently prevents the state from prosecuting a defendant after it has lost an appeal of a suppression motion, meaning prosecutors would not be able to continue in their case against Blake without intervention from the high court.
The General Assembly passed a bill last month to repeal that provision in the law and let prosecutors continue in their prosecution in such instances. The Attorney General’s office supported the bill, which is now awaiting action by the governor.
Attorneys in the case were not immediately available for comment Monday.
Terrence Tolbert, whose identification led police to arrest Blake, was convicted of first-degree murder in the case and sentenced to life in prison without parole, plus 30 years for conspiracy charges.
-30- CNS 04-18-05