03/24/2006

U.S. rests case against 2 alleged drug-dealing officers

Lawyers for pair will begin presenting evidence, witnesses Monday

MATTHEW DOLAN, SUN REPORTER

Copyright 2006 The Baltimore Sun Company

On arguably the darkest day of his career as a Baltimore police detective, Antonio L. Murray couldn't keep quiet. He blurted out a question for the FBI agent who had just arrested him on drug charges.

"Federal investigation?" Murray asked, according to Special Agent Shawn Riley's testimony in federal court yesterday. "That's like kilos and [expletive]. It ain't nothing like that."

Murray's statement, an awkward but potentially explosive admission, capped the government's prosecution of Murray and his partner, charged with running an illegal drug-selling operation on the city's west side, largely out of their department-issued Chevrolet Lumina.

Yesterday, federal prosecutors rested their case against Murray and Detective William A. King, who they say were as intimidating and greedy as the drug dealers they were supposed to be arresting. Attorneys for King and Murray say the pair might have bent the rules in the pursuit of the city's biggest drug sellers but did not break the law.

The defense will begin presenting witnesses and introducing evidence Monday. King and Murray are expected to testify. The case could be in the hands of the jury by the end of the day Tuesday, according to lawyers involved in the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys A. David Copperthite and Charles J. Peters have spent the better part of the past two weeks educating a panel of 16 jurors, including alternates, about how King and Murray are alleged to have lined their pockets with illegal drug profits in public housing communities.

Informants who once provided tips for King and Murray turned into witnesses in the federal case. They helped the FBI snare the officers in an elaborate sting operation, part of which included King allegedly picking up fake cocaine planted by federal agents. The government's seven-month probe into misconduct in the Baltimore Police Department ended with a May 2005 indictment against King and Murray.

Also yesterday, a forensic expert for the FBI testified that King and Murray's fingerprints could not be matched to the evidence - including illegal drugs, gel capsules, small vials and plastic bags - recovered from searches of the officers' car.

Prosecutors spent much of yesterday questioning FBI Special Agent Richard Wolf on the details of his investigation of King and Murray, built on hundreds of secret wiretaps. Bank records showed Murray had made large cash deposits in his account, including $8,000 during a two-week period in late March 2005, Wolf testified.

The police officers' lawyers focused their questions on whether any of the drug users alleged to have been robbed of money and guns by King and Murray had been threatened with a weapon. The issue could be critical in the case because firearm-related convictions in federal court could add many years to any potential prison sentence.

"They believed that the officers were carrying out their duties, and they believed that they were getting breaks?" asked Murray's attorney, Russell A. Neverdon Sr., referring to the drug dealers alleged to have been robbed by King and Murray.

"Yes," Wolf replied.

After prosecutors rested their case, Neverdon asked U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz to dismiss the gun charges against his client. Neverdon argued that prosecutors failed to present witnesses at trial who said that the officers brandished their weapons when they are alleged to have robbed their victims.

Motz disagreed, saying it was a legitimate question for the jury to consider during deliberations.

matthew.dolan@baltsun.com

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