Odd Man Out
Man Acquitted of Greektown Poker Robbery After Co-Defendants Plead Guilty
Mary Reilly, a retired schoolteacher, had $750 in poker chips in front of her and two aces in her Texas hold 'em poker hand. She was in her regular Thursday night game, held in a corner building at Eastern Avenue and Macon Street in Greektown. The night, May 25, 2006, started out like any other. When it was over, though, Reilly had material for a paper, titled "The Hold'Em Holdup," which she later submitted for a writing class at the Johns Hopkins University.
"This was a strange mix of 20 fellows and me," Reilly wrote. "We would not have been friends under normal circumstances. Such a wide range of age, color, religion, and occupation. We have met religiously for a decade because of our collective passion. WE LOVED POKER." Suddenly the game was interrupted by "two guys with guns screaming obscenities, `Okay you Mother F___ers against the wall and put your hands on top of your heads.' I honest to God thought it was a joke."
Reilly and the rest of the players were ordered around at gunpoint as the robbers collected their cash ("Luck of the Draw," Mobtown Beat, June 7, 2006). The club's manager, Jason Roth, balked at an order to turn over the house money, and Reilly wrote, "for this brazen act of defiance he got whacked a good one with the gun. His face was bleeding but his life was spared." One of the players was on his cell phone in an adjoining room. Once he noticed what was happening, he ran out onto Eastern Avenue and flagged down a passing police car. The police response, swift and large, netted two suspects: Andre Carroll, 32, and Ronnie Jones, 27. Nearly $24,000 was found in a bag that prosecutors say was used to collect the fruits of the averted crime.
Reilly's paper also addressed the aftermath of the event: "Just when I'm feeling smug at my courage under fire," she wrote, "I suddenly realize when I'm in the house alone I keep checking the doors and windows. I hate to admit that under my pillow right now is a hammer and a kitchen knife. Talk about [posttraumatic stress disorder]. Maybe I've got it but who can you sue when you're gambling illegally and the guys who are responsible are going to prison?"
Well, not all the guys thought to be responsible for the Greektown poker robbery are going to prison. Carroll was acquitted by a jury on March 22, after a three-day trial. On March 20, Carroll's two co-defendants--Jones and Naylor Harrison, 37, a regular at the poker game who was charged later, and who prosecutors allege was the ringleader--pleaded guilty, and each is expected to serve five years with no chance of parole when they come up for their scheduled sentencing hearings in May.
The state's case against Carroll roughly mirrored Reilly's written account of the robbery. Testifying at trial were three police officers involved in the response and arrests, a crime-scene photographer, a police firearms expert, and one victim--former police officer Thomas Perry, whose lengthy testimony clearly fingered Carroll as the would-be robber who pistol-whipped Roth and terrorized the other players.
Carroll, though, had an alternate story to tell jurors when he took the stand as the only witness in his defense. Carroll told the jury that he knew Ronnie Jones, who worked for Naylor Harrison in the paving business, but that he only met Harrison on the day of the alleged crime. That day, Carroll said, Jones picked him up at his home in Glen Burnie and took him to Harrison's work site in Timonium. After the working day was over, Harrison and Jones wanted to play poker, and took Carroll along with them to the Greektown game, where Carroll sat and watched, but didn't gamble.
"Ronnie was playing at the back table and Naylor was playing up at the front table," Carroll told the jury. "And Ronnie won a large pot, like 10 grand, 11 grand, and he was going to cash in, and Mr. Perry said [Jones] was cheating." An argument ensued between Jones and Roth, Carroll continued, and "Ronnie was in deep rage about his money. And Jason pulled out a gun, `You have to leave.' Then Ronnie pulled out his gun and demanded his money. Then Ronnie hit [him] with his gun. There was blood dripping on the floor. Some lady was screaming. I just headed out the door."
After a short chase, Carroll was apprehended by the police. He said he gave a false name, Todd Mikal, to arresting officers because he was panicked and had been in trouble with the law before.
During closing arguments, defense attorney Catherine Flynn characterized Carroll as "a victim of circumstances" rather than a perpetrator of an attempted armed robbery. She pointed out how the state's witnesses, under cross examination, displayed inconsistencies, conflicts, and inaccuracies, and that "the crime scene was played with and things were moved around." She pointed out key witnesses who did not testify--most importantly, Roth, the manager who was pistol-whipped. "Someone set it up quite nicely to point at my client," she argued. As she made her case to the jury, Carroll sat at the defense table, crying.
Prosecutor Jennifer Sites fought back against the defense's interpretation of the case by dismissing the inconsistencies and conflicts in the state's case as "details that have nothing to do with Mr. Carroll's guilt or innocence, or the facts of this case. . . . Mr. Carroll's story flies in the face of every piece of evidence in this case." And, she pointed out, "he had no reason to run--other than a very, very desperate attempt to get away."
Flynn, interviewed after Carroll's acquittal, says she was "pleasantly surprised" by the outcome, and adds that "I thought [Carroll's] testimony was very good." City Paper asked Flynn for an interview with Carroll, in order to be better persuaded of the veracity of his story, but that request went unfulfilled. As for Carroll's decision to go to trial after his co-defendants had pleaded guilty, Flynn says she "thought it was risky, given the fact that [the state] had 23 potential victims to testify." She adds that she was surprised that only one did.
So are several of the victims. "Oh, my god, what a travesty!" Reilly exclaims, when told of the verdict. "Why wouldn't they call us as witnesses?" Roth, who says he received "14 stitches above my left eye, right on the eye socket," as a result of the pistol-whipping, says, "I would have had no problem whatsoever testifying, and, to the best of my knowledge, I was not contacted to be involved in that trial." Stephen Prevas, an attorney and brother of Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge John Prevas, was also a victim and was present at the courthouse and ready to testify at the trial. However, he says, "it was a prosecutorial decision about who to call or who not to call." So the jury only heard from Perry.
Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office spokeswoman Margaret Burns says that "calling all of the victims might actually work against the state because their accounts differ slightly, and the jury can actually weigh that carefully." The decision to rely only on the testimony of Perry was strategic, she says, in that "he is a former police officer and we knew that he was familiar with how to testify."
Some of the victims also wonder why videotape footage that they believe had captured some of the crime was not introduced as evidence. In fact, the videotape was mentioned during the testimony of police officer Scott Ripley, while he was under cross-examination by Flynn. But Burns says that "you can't see anything on it, it was so dark and grainy, and if we'd introduced it as evidence, it could make the jury think that there was no compelling evidence."
"Clearly, we respect the decision of the jury," Burns concludes. "We are disappointed in the verdict, but we respect it. We tried to put on the best possible case."
Prevas, though, says he believes the jury could have been swayed by more testimony from victims. "There is not one scintilla of truth to Carroll's story," Prevas asserts. "He's got a story that he was able to concoct over 10 months [since the robbery], when he knows what everyone else is going to say [at trial]. If the jury had heard more from victims, they would have thought differently."
Prevas is philosophical about the outcome, though. "To fabricate a complete fiction and be acquitted based on that fiction--it's amazing," he says. "This stuff happens, but this guy will get his, somewhere down the line."
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