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Garreth Parks

Other Baltimore City Exonerations
In the early morning hours of July 16, 1999, police in Baltimore, Maryland responded to a report of a shooting in the 5400 block of Nelson Avenue. They found 27-year-old Charles Hill lying on his back. He had been shot four times. Nearby, they found 35-year-old Anthony Burgess who had been shot once in the abdomen.

The officers stopped 16-year-old Garreth Parks as he ran from the alley. Parks said, “They just robbed me.”

Meanwhile, Hill and Burgess were taken to a hospital. Hill died of his wounds. Burgess, however, survived.

After interviewing witnesses, including Burgess, police charged Parks with the murder of Hill and the attempted murder of Burgess.

According to police, the shooting was triggered after 16-year-old Joseph Smith went to Burgess’s home armed with a handgun and tried to rob him. But Burgess wrestled the gun away from Smith, who fled and told Parks. Police said Smith told them that Parks took another gun and went to try to buy Smith’s gun back for $100. Police said that when Burgess refused, Parks shot him and Hill.

Parks was prosecuted as an adult on charges of first-degree murder, first-degree attempted murder, and illegal use of a handgun in the commission of a violent crime. On February 3, 2000 he went to trial in Baltimore City Circuit Court.

Velma Burgess, Anthony Burgess’s mother and Charles Hill’s grandmother, testified that she heard an argument in the alley and saw Hill lunge at Parks. She told the jury that Parks and Hill went to the ground, and that Parks got the gun and began shooting.

Jamal Epps testified that he and Hill pulled up in a car and saw Burgess with a gun. At that point, Parks approached and said, “All we want is the gun back” and offered $100 for the gun. Epps said Hill punched Parks and Parks dropped his money, pulled out a gun, and began shooting at Hill and Burgess. He also testified that other people who were present had urged Hill to forcibly take the money from Parks.

Jeffery Fellows, a friend of the victims, testified that he had been with Anthony Burgess and the others in the basement of the house earlier that morning. He said Joseph Smith, whom Burgess recognized although he was wearing a mask, entered the house and tried to rob them at gunpoint, but Burgess wrestled the gun away and Smith fled empty-handed. Fellows said that Parks came to the house later to try to get the gun back and no one would allow him to enter.

Fellows testified that Parks said he was going home to get another gun. Parks later returned and offered $100 to buy the gun that Burgess took from the robber. When Parks pulled out the money, Hill grabbed it and said, “We will rob you.” Fellows said that’s when he heard gunshots and he fled.

Fellows admitted that he did not see the gunshots.

Angela Womble, who was Anthony Burgess’s girlfriend, testified that Parks argued with Hill and Burgess about the gun. She said that he tried to give them $100 for it, but they started fighting and the gun—a semi-automatic pistol—dropped to the ground and went off several times.

Tonya Tomlin testified that Parks was trying to give Hill and Burgess money for the gun and that he pulled out another gun. She said Hill and Parks struggled over the weapon and that both men fell to the ground. She said that Parks was trying to defend himself.

Anthony Burgess testified that after Smith tried to rob him and he managed to take the gun away, Parks came to the house and asked for the gun. Burgess said he refused and Parks said, “I’ll be back.” Burgess said that Parks returned and pulled a gun during an argument with Hill and began shooting. Smith did not testify at the trial.

Joseph Harant, a criminalist for the Baltimore City Police Department, testified that gunshot residue was found on the hands of Hill, Burgess, and Parks. No guns were ever recovered.

Parks testified that Smith told him Burgess took his gun and that he went to buy the gun back. He told the jury that Burgess hit him in the head, and then Hill punched him in the head and demanded all his money. Hill put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger, but it misfired. Parks said he was terrified and dropped his cash.

Parks said Hill bent down to pick up the money and jammed the gun into his abdomen. Hill pulled the trigger again, but the gun again did not fire. He said he and Hill struggled for the gun and it finally fired. The gun then fell to the ground and fired a second time. Parks said he and Burgess lunged for the gun, Burgess grabbed it, and the gun fired a third time. Parks ran at that point.

Parks testified that he only was aware of one gun and that he never had his finger on the trigger or fired it.

Three witnesses, including a church pastor, testified that Parks had a reputation for peacefulness.

On February 9, 2000, the jury convicted Parks of second-degree murder of Hill, attempted second-degree murder of Burgess, and illegal use of a firearm in the commission of a crime. He was sentenced to 80 years in prison.

In December 2001, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld the convictions and sentence.

Parks filed a post-conviction petition alleging that his trial defense attorney had failed to provide an adequate legal defense. That petition was denied.

Parks then filed a public records request with the Baltimore City Circuit Court clerk’s office. In the file was a police report of the statement taken from Burgess admitting that he shot Hill.

The middle section of the report states: “Follow Up In reference to the shooting on 16 Jul. 99 the victim Anthony Burgess Admits that he shot Mr. Hill.” On top of the document were the hand-written words: “Per Ms. Costley this report is not to be released.” Although Cassandra Costley was the prosecutor at Parks’s trial, the author of the hand-written words is not known.

In 2014, Parks’s lawyer filed a petition for a writ of actual innocence based on the report. The petition said that Burgess “was portrayed by the State…as the victim of Parks, when, in fact, he was the actual shooter. He clearly and directly pointed the finger of guilt at Mr. Parks. The prosecutor knowingly allowed Mr. Burgess to commit perjury, and intentionally withheld the police report containing Mr. Burgess’ confession.”

Officer Joseph Mueller, who wrote the report, confirmed at a hearing on the petition that Burgess had made the admission. Mueller admitted that when he testified at Parks’s trial, he did not reveal Burgess’s admission.

On March 3, 2015, the prosecution conceded that Parks might have been acquitted if his defense lawyer had received Mueller’s report of Burgess’s admission, and agreed that Parks’s convictions should be vacated. On April 10, 2015, Costley, the trial prosecutor who had become a probate court judge, died.

On October 9, 2015, the prosecution dismissed the charges and Parks was released.

In October 2018, Parks filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Mueller and other Baltimore police officers seeking compensation. The lawsuit alleged that the police coerced a false statement from Smith implicating Parks by threatening “to lock him up for the rest of his life if he did not give an account of events that was consistent with (the police) narrative." The lawsuit was settled in April 2020, with the city of Baltimore agreeing to pay Parks $125,000.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 10/25/2018
County:Baltimore City
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Attempted Murder, Illegal Use of a Weapon
Reported Crime Date:1999
Sentence:80 years
Age at the date of reported crime:16
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, False or Misleading Forensic Evidence
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No