On December 12, 1988, a police officer searching for a runaway teenager discovered the body of 25-year-old Edward Brewer, Jr., partially covered by debris in an abandoned house in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. Brewer, who was clad only in socks, had been stabbed 21 times and his neck was broken.
Police determined that Brewer’s car had been discovered a few weeks earlier, shortly after midnight on November 16, in a parking lot next to the house. The car had been set ablaze and a gas can was found inside the vehicle.
Police assembled photographs that included 28-year-old Bernard Ward, who had prior convictions for assault and homosexual solicitation. Two employees of Leon’s Bar, a tavern that was patronized by a largely gay clientele, told police Brewer and Ward were both there on the night of November 15. Two other witnesses identified Ward as a man they saw near the burning car.
Ward, formerly of nearby Glen Burnie, Maryland, was arrested on December 16, 1988, in Tallahassee, Florida and police there said he admitted that he had been at the bar and when he ran out of money, he and another man, whom he did not know, agreed to solicit Brewer to engage in a sexual act for money so they could continue drinking. Ward said that Brewer drove him and the other man to a parking lot, but when they got out of the car, the man stabbed Brewer and fled. Ward was charged with first degree murder, robbery with a deadly weapon, battery and assault.
He went on trial in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court in July 1989. The bar employees said they saw Ward in the bar with Brewer. Two other witnesses identified Ward as the man they saw near Brewer’s burning car. Another witness said Ward came to a gas station that same night to buy a can of gasoline.
The tape-recorded confession was played for the jury. During the confession, Ward never mentioned setting fire to the vehicle or explained how Brewer’s body wound up in the abandoned house or how Brewer came to be stabbed 21 times and his neck broken.
Ward testified that the confession was false and that he was simply parroting facts that had been fed to him by detectives. He said that after making the recording, he called the detectives back to the interrogation room and told them everything he had said was false.
Ward said that he was in Florida at the time Brewer was killed and that he left Maryland on November 12 and drove straight through—a journey of about 18 to 20 hours—so he could be with his son on his birthday on November 13.
Ward’s girlfriend and four of her relatives testified that Ward, a bricklayer, was in Tallahassee at the time of the crime, as did the foreman of a masonry business, who said that Ward called him from Tallahassee to seek and job and showed up at the job site on November 17.
Before the jury began deliberating, the prosecution offered Ward a deal to plead guilty in return for a life sentence with the possibility of parole. Ward entered an Alford plea in which he did not admit guilt, but acknowledged that the state had sufficient evidence to convict him. He was then sentenced to life in prison.
Ward attempted to overturn the Alford plea on appeal, arguing that the judge should have taken the alibi evidence into consideration and refused to accept the plea. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals denied the appeal in June 1990.
A month later, the Annapolis Capital Newspaper published a lengthy article about the case that noted there were other alibi witnesses who could have testified that Ward was in Florida at the time of the murder, including court personnel in Tallahassee who saw Ward and his ex-wife filling out court papers relating to a custody dispute Ward’s ex-wife was having with another man who was the father of her two children.
The newspaper unearthed telephone records showing Ward made collect telephone calls to Tallahassee while driving there from Maryland on November 12, days before the murder. They also located a witness who said that Ward drove her to a doctor’s appointment in Tallahassee on November 14 and that Ward was in Florida from the 13th until at least the 24th of November.
The newspaper obtained copies of the court papers and two FBI document examiners agreed that the handwriting was consistent with Ward’s handwriting. Moreover, Ward took a polygraph examination and the examiner said he was being truthful when he said he was not involved in the Brewer murder, the newspaper reported.
Attorneys Fred Heyman and Carl Schlaich took over Ward’s case free of charge and filed a motion to set aside the Alford plea. The motion alleged that Ward’s trial attorney had provided an inadequate defense by failing to locate alibi witnesses, failing to cross-examine prosecution witnesses and attempting to bribe a potential defense witness to change his testimony about the date he saw Ward to provide an additional alibi.
On November 13, 1992, Judge Robert H. Heller, Jr., granted the motion and ordered a new trial. The judge found that Ward’s trial lawyer, who was subsequently disbarred for unrelated misdeeds, had failed to object a single time during the four days of trial before Ward entered his Alford plea.
Ward had testified in a hearing on the motion that before he accepted the plea deal, the lawyer had told him he would serve no more than five years—a gross understatement of the 20 years that Ward should have expected to serve.
The judge said the lawyer’s performance—the case was his first murder trial—was “outrageous” for not seeking out the alibi witnesses and meeting with Ward only once prior to trial.
After the prosecution appealed the ruling and lost, Ward went on trial a second time in February 1994. The two employees of the bar who had previously identified Ward as being with Brewer recanted their testimony and said they were no longer sure they saw them together. Other witnesses said they saw him next to Brewer’s burning car and the witness who said Ward bought a can of gas again testified. The taped confession again was aired for the jury.
Ward’s ex-wife, Karen Stewart, testified that on November 16, 1988, she and Ward went to a Tallahassee courthouse to fill out papers relating to her custody battle over her two children with another man. Two courthouse employees testified that they remembered Ward being there that day. One employee particularly remembered Ward because he was upset about the paperwork. A Social Security clerk also testified to seeing Ward and Stewart that day. In addition, a handwriting analyst testified that the handwriting on legal papers was consistent with Ward’s handwriting.
Ward again testified and said the confession was falsely coerced by the Tallahassee detectives.
On February 10, 1994, the jury acquitted Ward and he was released.
– Maurice Possley