When it came time for Carroll's trial in July 1999, a Prince George's County Circuit Court judge allowed Sipe's identification and police interview to be used as evidence - even though it meant depriving Carroll of his constitutional right to confront an accuser. A state appeals court later upheld the conviction, making the Carroll case an anomaly in Maryland's history.
Prosecutors across the state, including in Baltimore and Prince George's County, want to make that one-time courtroom exception a law.
Several bills that would permit out-of-court statements by threatened or murdered witnesses to be used as evidence are in the works, and the issue will come before a General Assembly committee at a hearing next week.
Long a problem in Baltimore, witness intimidation is gaining renewed attention. Over the past week, six men have been arrested and could face federal charges in the firebombing of the home of a Harwood woman who provided police with information about drug trafficking in her North Baltimore neighborhood.
Last month, the subject received national attention in the form of a locally produced DVD called Stop Snitching. The profanity-filled documentary was popularized by the brief appearance of Baltimore native and rising NBA start Carmelo Anthony. It features drug-smoking and freestyle-rapping men delivering the same message: Witnesses to crimes better keep their mouths shut.
In an effort to combat the problem, the rules committee of the state's highest court recommended this month allowing three kinds of statements to be allowed as evidence if a witness has been made unavailable for court by some wrongdoing of the defendant. The Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, will consider adopting the committee's recommendation after a hearing at an undetermined future date.
Lawmakers in Annapolis also expect to debate various other approaches.
Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, who said witness intimidation has become so pervasive in the city that it touches nearly every shooting and homicide case, spent part of this week in Annapolis lobbying for Ehrlich's bill.
The governor introduced a similar measure last year, but it was killed in the House Judiciary Committee. Fearing a similar outcome, Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey said he is pushing a bill that his county's Democratic senator, Leo E. Green, introduced last week. That proposal addresses only increased penalties for witness intimidation.
Yesterday, Sens. Brian E. Frosh and Jennie M. Forehand, Montgomery County Democrats, introduced a bill that resembles Ehrlich's. Witness intimidation will be discussed for the first time this legislative session at a Senate committee hearing Tuesday.
Defense attorneys worry that both the rules committee's recommendation and the legislation pending in Annapolis gnaw away at defendants' rights, said Timothy Mitchell, a Greenbelt attorney and president of the Maryland Criminal Defense Attorneys Association.
"To our founding fathers, it was of paramount importance that the person be able to confront an accuser and challenge an accusation," Mitchell said. "Taking away that right is a dangerous precedent to set."
But Ehrlich's legal counsel, Jervis S. Finney, said the bill is firmly rooted in court precedent.
"There's no doubt about its constitutionality," he said. Similar legislation exists at the federal level and in eight other states and in Washington.
The basis for Ehrlich's bill is outlined in the Maryland Court of Special Appeals opinion on the 1999 Prince George's murder trial, some prosecutors said.