Defendants Held in Scarborough Case Despite Concerns that Admissions were Coerced

Two young men were ordered to remain behind bars Friday afternoon after Judge Thomas Motley decided that there was enough evidence to believe that they killed 71-year-old Glenn Scarborough in his home last month by beating him, gagging him, tying him up, and choking him.

Defendants Phillip Swan and Terell Wilson appeared in court Thursday and Friday for two days of a contentious preliminary hearing. Their co-defendant in the case, Theodore Spencer, was present Thursday but did not appear Friday because of a scheduling conflict with his attorney. Spencer is due to appear in court Aug 8 to complete his portion of the preliminary hearing.

MPD Homicide Detective Dwayne Corbett testified that all three men, all under the age of 22, admitted to assaulting Scarborough twice— once on Friday, June 17 and again on June 18. In the June 18 attack, Corbett said, the men admitted to forcing their way into Scarborough’s Trinidad-area basement apartment, pushing him to the ground, kicking and punching him, stuffing a rag or paper towel into Scarborough’s mouth, choking him with a belt, and wrapping his head and feet in duct tape.

Corbett said Spencer believed Scarborough had sexually assaulted his mother, Sharon Spencer, and given her an STD, which hastened her death due to cancer. Swan and Wilson were friends of Spencer. Spencer also dates Swan’s sister and Wilson dates Spencer’s sister, Corbett said. He added that both women are believed to have been with the men when Scarborough was killed. He said all three men and the two women drove together to Scarborough’s home and the women waited in the car for the men to return from the assault.

Said attorney Lauren Bernstein, who represents Wilson, “Frankly I think the two women in the car could be charged with murder, too.”

No charges have been filed against them.

While the prosecution relied on the defendants’ admissions to police to make probable cause in the case, attorneys for Swan and Wilson said they believe those statements were coerced and not reliable.

At issue, Bernstein said, is what MPD detectives told Wilson during his taped interview. Bernstein, who viewed the video Thursday, said in the course of the interview detectives told Wilson that telling what happened then was his opportunity to “save himself” from a 60-year prison term. He was also warned that his girlfriend, who was also at the police station at that moment, was also “on the hook” for first degree murder and that he could “save her” if he would “man up.”

Bernstein also drew the court’s attention to inconsistencies and impossibilities within the confessions of all three men. In particular, she said, each claimed to have wrapped the duct tape around Scarborough’s head and feet.

Everyone’s admitting to the exact same conduct and I don’t think that’s possible,” she said.

While prosecutors argued that Spencer, Swan and Wilson were intimately knowledgable about specifics relating to Scarborough’s case, details that only someone who committed the crime would know.

Attorneys for Swan and Wilson argued that those details were not only generic (that Scarborough had a TV, stereo, and refrigerator in his home), but that they showed the limitations of their clients’ knowledge (the men couldn’t say what time the assaults took place, for example, or whether or not Scarborough was wearing a shirt when he answered the door).

Motley said there was some truth to the defense attorney’s arguments, but said those arguments, particularly those about whether or not confessions were coerced, was a matter for trial and not a preliminary hearing.

If this was proof beyond a reasonable doubt, I’d have some questions,” Motley said. “But this is probable cause.”

In a preliminary hearing, the government only has to prove that there is enough evidence to try a defendant.

Motley went on to say that “at this point and time” he did not find the confessions “unreliable.” Saying that the men’s distance from D.C.(both live in Orange County, Va.) made them a flight risk, he ordered them held at least until their next scheduled court appearance. That hearing is scheduled for Oct. 14.

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