Prosecuting his first murder case since taking office, Baltimore City State’s Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein started by offering on the record a plea bargain with William D. Carr, accused of first-degree murder, that included a life sentence with all but 50 years suspended.
Carr, 50, declined the state’s offer. His attorney, Assistant Public Defender Maureen Rowland then asked Carr if he had a counter-offer for prosecutors and Judge Paul Smith.
“Freedom,” Carr replied.
Smith, a retired judge sitting by assignment, took the answer as a not-guilty plea and moved on to the other pretrial motions in Baltimore City Circuit Court.
The plea offer and refusal came on the first day of Carr’s trial on charges of murder, assault, theft and handgun violations in the June 28 killing of Chong Wan Yim, 55, who was making a delivery at the Erdman Shopping Center.
Carr was convicted in 1985 for armed robbery and was released in 2010. His probation in the 1985 case was supposed to run until January 2019.
In the first pretrial motion, Rowland asked Smith to exclude the fingerprint evidence in the case. Rowland said there were some real concerns with the validity of latent fingerprint evidence despite the fact it has been used for decades in criminal trials.
“Just because it has been accepted in the past doesn’t mean it needs to be accepted now,” she said.
Bernstein argued that fingerprint evidence has been used for years and its methodology accepted by the scientific community. “The examination of latent fingerprints is hardly novel,” Bernstein said.
Smith ruled against the defense’s motion to exclude the fingerprint evidence, as well as a motion to suppress the testimony of an eyewitness who picked Carr out of a photo line-up.
After the motions were heard, Smith started jury selection around 11:30 and voir dire was expected to take the remainder of the day. The pool of potential jurors was increased from 80 to 100, and at one point there was consideration given to carrying out the questioning in a larger courtroom.
Bernstein, who took office in January 2011, is a former federal prosecutor and private criminal defense lawyer. During his election he criticized his predecessor, Patricia Jessamy, for not trying cases herself.
The Carr trial is Bernstein’s first murder trial since taking office, but not his first foray into the courtroom. Last year he prosecuted the case against Baltimore Police Officers Milton Smith, Tyrone Francis and Gregory Hellen, who were part of a special unit that focuses on violent crime prevention. The officers were charged with kidnapping, false imprisonment, second-degree assault and misconduct in office for separate incidents in 2009. They were charged with picking up two teens in a police van, releasing one in East Baltimore and one in Howard County.
A jury found Smith and Francis guilty only of misconduct. They were placed on probation for one year and six months, with all but one day suspended. Hellen, who opted for a bench trial without a jury, was found not guilty on all charges.
Smith and Francis have appealed their convictions to the Court of Special Appeals.
Bernstein also represented the state in the case against Kimberly S. Carter, a former employee of the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center Addiction Treatment Services Center, who pleaded guilty last week to embezzling more than $8,000 from the center.