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FBI testimony is hearsay, bank robber's conviction overturned

March 31, 2000|By MARLO BARNHART

Improper admission of hearsay evidence has prompted Maryland's second highest court to throw out the bank robbery conviction and 35-year prison sentence imposed on Anthony Joseph Lombardi III a year ago.

Lombardi has been in prison since March 26, 1999, when Judge Frederick Wright sentenced him in Washington County Circuit Court for the 1997 robbery of a Home Federal Savings Bank branch.

He will remain incarcerated at the Maryland Correctional Institution in Hagerstown while prosecutors decide whether to appeal to the Maryland Court of Appeals or retry the case, according to Washington County State's Attorney Kenneth Long.

"That decision will be made based on the availability of evidence and witnesses," Long said Thursday.

Efforts to reach Lombardi's defense attorney were unsuccessful.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruling handed down this week pointed out that the testimony of an FBI agent during Lombardi's jury trial included hearsay statements made to that agent by another witness.

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At the trial, FBI Agent Barry O'Neill, now retired, testified a friend of Lombardi's told him that a gun that turned up in the investigation had been used in a robbery, according to the court opinion.

But when that witness took the stand he didn't testify to that, the higher court pointed out.

Two other complaints raised by Lombardi in his appeal were ruled harmless errors - admission of information on his past crimes and testimony that Lombardi had spoken to others of committing a robbery before the robbery.

His past crimes included:

- Assault with intent to rape from 1983, for which he received a 10-year suspended sentence in Anne Arundel County, Md.

- Assault with intent to maim from 1989, for which he received a 10-year sentence.

After deliberating for more than four hours on Jan. 27, 1999, a Washington County Circuit Court jury convicted Lombardi of the robbery.

The Jan. 10, 1997, robbery occurred at the Home Federal Savings Bank branch at 1700 Dual Highway.

A masked man brandished a "long-armed weapon" just before closing time at about 6:45 p.m., police reports said.

The robber tripped and fell after vaulting over one of the counters in the bank, police said. He fled through a rear door.

A videotape of the robbery was played for the jury.

Eight months after the robbery, the FBI charged Lombardi with bank robbery at his Crossfield Road home.

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