Baltimore judge, prosecutor violated murder defendant’s right to remain silent at trial, appeals court finds

·4 min read

A Maryland appeals court reversed the murder conviction of a man serving life in prison for allegedly fatally stabbing his girlfriend in 2018, finding a city judge and prosecutor violated his constitutional rights at trial.

When a prosecutor told jurors that 72-year-old Michael Maurice Allen Sr.’s decision to stop answering a detective’s questions about his girlfriend’s death suggested he was guilty, that amounted to a violation of his right to remain silent, the Court of Special Appeals wrote in an opinion published Tuesday.

The Maryland Office of the Attorney General can appeal the court’s ruling to the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals. Otherwise, Allen’s case is likely headed back to Baltimore City Circuit Court for a new trial, as the special appeals court found he could be tried again on all charges.

A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office said lawyers there are examining the opinion but have not determined whether to seek further review. A Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office spokeswoman said prosecutors would discuss the appellate case with the attorney general’s office and declined to comment further.

Eva Shell, an assistant public defender who handled Allen’s appeal, said the court made the right decision.

“The constitutional right to remain silent is an important and well-established pillar in our legal system. We are grateful that the Court recognized and remedied the infringement on Mr. Allen’s constitutional right,” Shell said.

In October 2019, a jury found Allen guilty of murder in the fatal stabbing of Elizabeth Holland, his on-again, off-again girlfriend of 50 years.

Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby issued a news release after the conviction praising her prosecutors for securing the conviction of “a repeat violent offender.”

A judge sentenced him to life in prison. Circuit Judge Judge Yvette M. Bryant presided over his trial, according to online court records.

But Allen’s defense lawyers appealed, highlighting the prosecutor’s comment during closing arguments about Allen’s refusal to answer questions and that Bryant overruled their objection to it, meaning the judge did not tell the jury to disregard the prosecutor’s remarks.

The prosecutors argued the comment was fair game, and Bryant agreed at trial, saying it was “appropriate” given the context in which it arose.

Police accused Allen of stabbing Holland multiple times in the head and chest. Allen pleaded not guilty, claiming he was not home when Holland was killed. One neighbor told police she thought she heard two young men inside the house that evening.

But there were no signs of forced entry, and police found traces of Holland’s blood on Allen, in his car, on his dog, Milo, and on money scattered through the home. Allen originally told 911 operators he didn’t touch Holland when he found her body, but later admitted to police he did.

Allen became increasingly uncooperative with investigators, telling Detective Frank Miller he was “fishing” when he kept asking questions about all the blood on Allen and his possessions. Miller also noted Holland’s family didn’t like Allen and that nothing of value was taken from the home, which would be uncommon if someone unknown came in and killed her.

During an interview at the police station, Miller asked Allen whether he stood by his statement that he was walking his dog, Milo, while the killing happened, and if that was true, how Milo was covered with blood, according to an excerpt of the transcript of the recorded interview, which was included in the written opinion.

“Look, I ain’t goin’ to answer no more questions,” Allen responded. “I told you what happened and I’m going to shut my mouth.”

Two prosecutors tried Allen in court: Elizabeth Stock and Amy Davis. One of them — the appellate court’s opinion does not say — told the jury in closing Allen’s response was telling of his culpability.

“So, ladies and gentlemen, when [appellant] is confronted with more evidence that he didn’t realize he left behind, he shuts down, he’s done talking. All of this, ladies and gentlemen, I would suggest to you points to signs of guilt,” the prosecutor said.

The Fifth Amendment says people accused of crimes have the right to remain silent to avoid self incrimination. Courts have held that the reason a person’s silence cannot be held against them is because jurors may incorrectly interpret that as a sign of guilt.

A person’s right to silence can be invoked anytime, even after they’ve initially answered detective’s questions, according to the appellate court’s opinion. At no point can a prosecutor use that silence to try and suggest guilt.