A judge Friday rejected accusations that prosecutors in the case of two men charged with attempted murder in a 2011 attack on the Biddeford-Saco line intentionally withheld evidence that could show the men acted in self-defense.
Attorneys for Tamer Tilahun, 23, and Jonathan Dowd, 22, both of Biddeford, argued that just days before the men were to stand trial in November in York County Superior Court, they found that audio recordings of witness interviews with Saco police were missing, including one in which the victim’s girlfriend described yelling racial insults at Tilahun, who is African-American, shortly before the attack.
Attorneys Peter Cyr and Amy Fairfield had already won an argument to have the District Attorney’s Office sanctioned for failing to turn over the evidence. A judge ordered Tilahun and Dowd released on bail, after two years in jail, and postponed the trial until March 24.
Cyr and Fairfield sought to have the prosecution further sanctioned Friday, asking that the cases against Tilahun and Dowd be thrown out. They argued that Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan should be held accountable because Saco police Detective Sgt. Corey Huntress had “deliberately” and “maliciously” withheld evidence to bolster what they considered a weak case.
Justice Thomas Warren denied the motion to dismiss the cases, saying there wasn’t enough evidence to find Huntress’ failure was intentional.
Warren said McGettigan could not have known to turn over the audio recording because Huntress, the lead investigator in the case, had failed to turn it over to her.
Huntress testified last month, in the first day of the three-day hearing, that he mistakenly thought he had shared the audio recordings with the District Attorney’s Office long before November. “My total error,” he said.
Prosecutors didn’t give the recordings to the defense until Nov. 6, less than two weeks before the trial was scheduled to start, according to Cyr and Fairfield.
Tilahun and Dowd have each pleaded not guilty to five charges stemming from the fight that hospitalized Derrick Connors of Biddeford: attempted murder, elevated aggravated assault, two counts of criminal threatening with a weapon, and one count of committing a bail violation.
The fight started on the Elm Street bridge, between Saco and Biddeford, around 1 a.m. on Nov. 21, 2011, an hour or more after the racially charged exchange between Connors’ friends and Tilahun and Dowd, according to Huntress’ testimony and recordings played in court.
Tilahun and Dowd are accused of stabbing Connors, now 29, on the bridge and then fighting him on the Biddeford side of the bridge. The exchange ended with Tilahun or Dowd hitting Connors in the face with a brick. Witnesses gave differing accounts of who used the knife, who wielded the brick and who initiated the fights.
Defense attorneys say prosecutors and police failed to disclose the heated exchange between the two sides before the fight.
“The biggest issue in this case, if it gets to trial, will be who the aggressor was,” Cyr said Friday.
Connors’ girlfriend, Sally Hansen, told police in the audio recording that Connors had been drinking coffee brandy at Savannah Barnes’ second-story apartment in Saco when he accidentally knocked out a window screen. Tilahun and Dowd were on the street below and crushed the screen, prompting Barnes to demand repayment.
While Tilahun and Dowd were in Barnes’ apartment paying her for the damage to the screen, Connors swore at them at least twice.
Connors, Hansen and Barnes then followed the men out of the apartment, where Hansen and Barnes shouted racial insults loud enough for the two men to hear, according to the audio recording played in court.
“(Barnes) was saying what a scumbag that black kid has always been,” Hansen said on the recording.
Hansen added that she yelled at Tilahun, calling him a “dirty (racial slur).”
“I don’t like black people, OK?” Hansen told Huntress in the recording.
Connors told police in other recordings played in court that he encountered Tilahun and Dowd again during the early hours of Nov. 21, 2011, while walking home from a bar in Saco. According to Connors, the two immediately charged to attack him. Other witnesses have said they tried to restrain Connors from chasing the men off the bridge.
Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at: