Md. high court hears convicted murderer’s appeal that claims new evidence

Steve Lash//October 10, 2022

Md. high court hears convicted murderer’s appeal that claims new evidence

By Steve Lash

//October 10, 2022

Ballistics evidence now under challenge could have been the difference between “the trial that was versus the trial that would have been,” Chief Judge Matthew Fader said. (Submitted Photo)

A man who has spent more than 30 years in prison for a Baltimore murder he did not commit — and was convicted based on tainted testimony and undisclosed evidence indicating a different shooter — deserves exoneration or at least a new trial, a defense attorney told a seemingly receptive Maryland high court last week.

Newly discovered evidence shows the prosecution’s only eyewitness against Steven G. Carver in 1989 was the subject of two open but unserved arrest warrants; the state’s since-discredited ballistics expert wrongly fingered two shooters; and the police failed to disclose to the defense that another man wanted the victim dead, Assistant Maryland Public Defender Eva Shell told the Court of Appeals.

“He has never given up,” Shell said of Carver, who is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

“He has maintained his innocence for decades,” Shell added. “I fully believe he is innocent.”

Carver was convicted 33 years ago for the first-degree murder of John Green at 4:30 p.m. on March 14, 1989, on Old York Road.

The new evidence indicates Green, a friend of Carver’s, was killed by one shooter at the behest of Bryant McArthur, whom Green had allegedly seen kill Damon Barrett, Shell told the high court.

That lone shooter was possibly Joe Hodge, Carver’s co-defendant at trial who was also convicted of first degree murder in Green’s death, Shell stated earlier in court papers.

McArthur was convicted in 1991 of having murdered Barrett.

But Assistant Maryland Attorney General Carrie J. Williams said the purported new evidence was outweighed by trial evidence of Carver’s guilt, including witnesses who corroborated the eyewitness’s testimony and defense counsel’s decision not to follow up on his suspicion that McArthur was responsible for the slaying.

“Defense counsel knew 90% of the McArthur conspiracy and chose not to introduce it at trial,” Williams said.

Williams’ argument drew skepticism from three judges on the seven-member high court who found compelling Shell’s argument of a “significant or substantial possibility” that Carver would have been acquitted had the jury known of the only eyewitness’s warrants, the questionable ballistics evidence and of another suspect with a strong motive.

Judge Steven B. Gould said trial counsel’s defense and cross-examination would have been “more ambitious” if his suspicions regarding questionable witness testimony and a different shooter were substantiated or disclosed before or during rather than years after the trial.

Perhaps “the state didn’t want witnesses to be picked off this trial,” Gould said regarding the defense’s late discovery of the eyewitness’s outstanding warrants.

Judge Shirley M. Watts said the prosecution’s failure to share with the defense what it knew of McArthur’s motive undermined a key defense argument at trial.

“He (trial counsel) ran into a roadblock that he apparently couldn’t get across,” Watts said.

And Chief Judge Matthew J. Fader noted Shell’s argument that a more recent ballistics test points to a single shooter other than Carver and away from the state’s theory at trial that Carver was one of two shooters, with Hodge.

That ballistics evidence could have been the difference between “the trial that was versus the trial that would have been,” Fader said.

Williams conceded that the testimony of the state’s longtime ballistics expert, Joseph Kopera, should be disregarded based on the state’s discovery in 2007 that his claimed education in firearms identification was false – a discovery that preceded Kopera’s suicide that year.

However, the ballistics evidence did not incriminate Carver, as Kopera did not say the fatal bullet was fired from a specific gun, Williams said. She added that trial counsel could have had its own ballistics expert testify but did not.

Shell countered that the accumulated, new evidence — a tainted eyewitness, more accurate ballistics indicating a single shooter and the discovery of McArthur or his agent as the possible shooter — point toward Carver’s innocence.

“The focus really should be on the new evidence, and the new evidence is substantial,” Shell said, adding that Carver would likely have been acquitted if the evidence were available.

“The defense attorney would have been more ambitious,” Shell told the high court. “It changes the game.”

Carver’s petition for a writ of actual innocence was rejected by Baltimore City Circuit Judge Charles Peters in 2018. The intermediate Court of Special Appeals upheld Peters’ decision in March, saying that if introduced at trial, the new evidence would not have created a “substantial or significant possibility” that the jury’s verdict would have been different.

Carver then sought review by the Court of Appeals.

The high court is expected to render its decision by Aug. 31 in Steven G. Carver v. State of Maryland, No. 14, September Term 2022.


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