WASHINGTON — A Maryland man convicted of fatally shooting an off-duty federal law enforcement officer during a robbery will get a new trial because jurors never should have been shown letters in which the man asked a friend to kill a witness, the state’s second-highest court has ruled.
A three-judge panel of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals found the trial court judge erred in allowing jurors to see William Lloyd McDonald’s letters to a friend, Adrian Lincoln, asking him to kill a witness in the case and offering suggestions on how to do so.
The evidence, which a defense attorney objected to, could have violated McDonald’s right to a fair trial, the appeals court found.
“We cannot say that the letters — admitted to show McDonald asked Lincoln to brutally murder [witness Carlos Wells] so that he would be unable to testify against him in the underlying case — in no way influenced the verdict in this case,” Judge Andrea Leahy wrote.
During McDonald’s trial, his defense attorney called the letters irrelevant because they included no reference to the murder of Benjamin Curtis, a 47-year-old officer with Federal Protective Services, which guards federal buildings. Curtis was shot in the head during an Aug. 12, 2006, robbery of him and a friend behind a bar in Odenton, Md.
Then-Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge Judge Paul F. Harris Jr. allowed the letters as evidence.
The appeals court found Harris should not have allowed the letters as evidence without first conducting a thorough review to determine their relevance.
Harris, now retired, could not be reached for comment.
McDonald, 38, of Glen Burnie, Md., was sentenced to life without parole in 2015.