Without truth, there is no justice'
In crusade for new trial, wife of convicted policeman claims his conviction hinged on lies, politics
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There is a reason former Prince George's County policeman Keith Washington was wearing his gun at his Accokeek home before he shot two deliverymen, one fatally.
"He has his gun on him at all times until he locks it up," his wife, Stacey Washington, explained. "If you talk to a lot of police officers, they do the same."
Stacey Washington said there are even more explanations for her husband's actions Jan. 24, 2007, the night he shot the furniture deliverers, and she is crusading to have his manslaughter conviction overturned.
Keith Washington, who was a policeman for 17 years and was the county's homeland security director, is serving a 45-year prison sentence while a request for a new trial is being weighed in a state appeals court.
Stacey Washington is claiming that the criminal record of Robert White, one of the men shot by her husband, should have been admitted in the trial and that political ambitions played a role in county State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey's decision to prosecute.
"I have to do everything I can," Washington said, showing a thick binder of documents that she claims proves White lied more than 100 times.
She also is planning to ask the federal Justice Department to investigate.
Stacy Washington met over the summer with Ivey to persuade him to retry the case, but the prosecutor declined, saying no new evidence has been produced to justify it.
She has also written to William Missouri, chief administrative judge for county circuit court, asking him to re-examine the case.
Her efforts are due in part, she said, to prosecutors' portrayal of her husband as an out-of-control officer, a depiction she said could easily be negated by presenting all the facts.
"It should make a difference," she said of White's criminal history, which was not allowed in her husband's trial. "It shows Robert White to be the liar that he is."
Missouri said it is common for relatives to feel wronged by the justice system but said he cannot investigate the case or interfere.
"If I opened that floodgate, it would overwhelm me," Missouri said last week. "I understand she has concerns. But the court is not the entity. The court is not an investigatory agency."
Circuit Court Judge Michael Whalen, who presided over Keith Washington's criminal trial, decided the trial should be waged on what happened that night, and that the background of White and Washington were not relevant.
White, who is now 38, and Brandon Clark, 22, were delivering bed rails for the Washington's master bedroom at around 7:30 the night of the shooting.
Keith Washington testified at his February 2008 trial that he told the men to leave after White attempted to go into his then 6-year-old daughter's bedroom.
Washington, 48, said the men attacked him and he shot the pair in self defense.
Stacey Washington, his wife of 10 years, testified that she was downstairs eating dinner with the Washington's daughter when the altercation began.
"I heard, Get out. Get out of my house. Leave,'" she recalled. "I went to the foyer and looked up. He was flanked by White and Clark. I could see their hands [hitting him]. These guys were huge."
Clark died days after he was shot by Washington. White testified he had not gone in another bedroom and that Keith Washington was irate over the late delivery.
In addition to manslaughter, Washington was convicted of two counts of assault and use of a handgun in a felony. He is under protective custody in a Cumberland jail because, as a former police officer, he could be a target for inmates.
Requests through Washington's lawyer to interview Washington went unanswered. Stacey Washington, who has written a letter to the editor and agreed to sit for in an interview, said she was speaking on behalf of her husband.
In the criminal trial, the backgrounds of Washington and White were not admitted because the judge declared they would prejudice the jury.
According to law enforcement records from South Carolina, White's history in his home state includes a disorderly conduct conviction in March 1991 and convictions for receiving stolen goods and attempted third-degree burglary later that year. In 1994, he was convicted of pointing a firearm. And in 1995, he was convicted of first-degree burglary and assault with intent to commit criminal sexual conduct, according to records.
Washington's background, which includes four cases in which he was accused of using excessive force but was later cleared and an incident in which he allegedly challenged a member of his homeowners' association to a fight after a contentious meeting, also was not admitted in the trial. Prosecutors were also not allowed to introduce medical reports from the mid-1990s in which a psychiatrist had diagnosed Washington with post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety.
Stacey Washington said any long-time officers are likely to have some complaints lodged against them given the difficult situations they address as part of their job. Washington had been a member of the police department for 14 years before he was selected by County Executive Jack B. Johnson as liaison to the county department for homeland security.
Washington's attorney, Byron Warnken, said that that unlike White, Washington's history did not include convictions. Also, as a defendant accused of a crime, Washington's record is protected from juries more than a witness, he said.
"It's not a case of what's good for the goose is good for the gander," he said. "The law treads very lightly on the records for criminal defendants."
Stacey Washington and Warnken said testimony shows White lied repeatedly. For example, White testified that he and Clark called the Washington residence before arriving, but phone records show no call was made, according to Washington's attorney.
White tested positive for cocaine the night of the shooting, according to medical reports, but testified that he never used the drug. He also changed his account of where he and Clark were while upstairs in the house.
"The issue in my mind is the perjury," Stacey Washington said. "When the primary state's witness is lying, then the jury doesn't hear the truth. And without truth, there is no justice."
White could not be reached for comment. He is currently incarcerated in a South Carolina jail, but South Carolina authorities would not confirm by press time the reason for his incarceration.
Michael Winkelman, representing White and the Clark family in a civil lawsuit against Washington and Prince George's County that seeks up to $40 million, said he believes White is in jail for failure to pay child support.
Requests to speak to the Clark family and White through attorney Winkelman were declined.
Winkelman acknowledged the same inconsistencies in White's testimony but said such mistakes are common.
"He can't remember who went up the stairs first? Who cares?" Winkelman said. "But [White] has never varied from his account of what happened: that Keith Washington, unprovoked, shot and killed his friend and tried to kill him."
Ivey said White was an unreliable witness at times.
"Let's just say there were some things I believed and some that I didn't," Ivey said. "What I focused on were the things we had backed up by objective evidence."
Ivey said the key evidence was photos police took of Washington that show little evidence of injury during an altercation. Doctors who examined Washington reported no evidence of injury. Washington requested a prescription for painkillers the night of the shooting.
"I'm sure if two 200-, 300-pound guys were hitting him, he would have had some marks," said Ivey, referring to court records of the men's weights.
Stacey Washington said the pictures were out of focus. She points to officers' statements that claim her husband's lip was swollen and that he had an ice pack on his jaw.
"This was not a knock-down, drag-out fight. This was a brawl that started spontaneously," she said. "Do you wait until you're unconscious or nearly unconscious before you defend yourself? No."
In the civil lawsuit trial in March, the jury deadlocked, and a mistrial was declared. A second civil trial is scheduled for January.
"We do not know if Washington acted in self defense," the jury foreman wrote in a letter to the judge. "We believe both White's and Washington's stories [have] holes and inconsistencies."
Stacey Washington believes political ambitions also played a role in her husband's trial.
"It was a sensational case, lots of media, lots of pressure. They had to do something," she said of prosecutors. "They wanted a conviction to satisfy the public."
Ivey is rumored to be running for county executive in 2010, which he has not denied. One of the assistant state's attorneys who prosecuted the case, Joseph Wright, is planning to run for state's attorney. Both denied the trial had political ties.
"He was tried and convicted by a jury of his peers," Ivey said. "I believe the trial was done fairly."
Wright also denied that the case has any connection to his political plans.
"To suggest that even raises serious ethical considerations," he said. "The case had nothing at all to do with my decision."
E-mail Daniel Valentine at firstname.lastname@example.org.
-Watch an interview with Stacey Washington at www.gazette.net/video.
-Read a letter to The Gazette from Stacey Washington at www.gazette.net/links.