JURY INDICTS COSBY SUSPECT.
Sparing prosecutors from having to disclose key evidence to the public and the defense, a Los Angeles County grand jury indicted Mikail Markhasev Friday in the Jan. 16 roadside slaying of Ennis Cosby.
The indictment, and the secretive grand jury testimony that supports it, was ordered sealed by a judge until a May 1 arraignment.
Markhasev, 18, who has been held without bail since March 12, was in court as Superior Court Judge John Reid signed the orders. Dressed in a blue jail jumpsuit, he smiled and talked to his attorneys.
The Valley Village teen-ager was previously charged with murder with special circumstances of attempted robbery and use of a firearm during a crime in the slaying.
Prosecutors declined comment Friday on the murder case or their strategy.
Markhasev's lawyer, Charles Lindner, said prosecutors have been slow to turn over evidence - such as police reports and news that an eyewitness failed to pick Markhasev out of a lineup.
``The prosecution has known that their witness did not identify Mr. Markhasev at the lineup since the date of his arrest on March 12,'' Lindner said. ``This is now April 11. Mr. Markhasev has been in custody 30 days.
``His lawyers have been denied any police reports, any discovery whatsoever by the people,'' Lindner said outside court.
Securing an indictment avoids the need for a preliminary hearing, during which witnesses are questioned under oath in an open courtroom and prosecutors detail their evidence.
Defense lawyers do not appear before the grand jury, though by law, prosecutors are supposed to inform them of any exculpatory evidence that might absolve a defendant.
Legal experts said the District Attorney's Office's decision to pursue an indictment in its latest high-profile case may well have roots in the failed O.J. Simpson double-murder case.
``Defense attorneys love the preliminary hearing because they see it as a terrific opportunity to learn more about the prosecution's case,'' said Laurie Levenson, associate dean of the Loyola Marymount Law School.
``If you have a preliminary hearing, you hang your witnesses up there for cross-examination before you're even through collecting evidence,'' Levenson said. ``(Prosecutors) would rather not have their evidence tested until they're in the trial.''
An indictment puts the ball squarely in the prosecution's court.
``Because witnesses are not subject to cross-examination (from defense attorneys), it's their little baby,'' said defense attorney Harland Braun. ``It also cuts down on the publicity a lot because it's a secret, so you avoid some of the circus atmosphere. It's good for control.''
In the Simpson case, defense attorneys explored areas where witnesses were ill-prepared to testify, locked them into damning statements and actually made it impossible to use some witnesses at the trial later.
Markhasev is accused of gunning down the son of entertainer Bill Cosby as the younger Cosby was changing his car's flat tire on a dark street after pulling off the San Diego Freeway.
In the glare of the national spotlight, police and prosecutors have been tight-lipped about the case, revealing little about their evidence or their strategy.
Markhasev was arrested on an informant's tip March 12, and police said they have collected the handgun believed used in the crime, as well as the beanie a witness claims the suspect wore that night.
The case was back in the news this week with disclosures that the prosecution's sole eyewitness, a 47-year-old woman friend of Ennis Cosby's whom he had called to help him fix the flat, couldn't pick Markhasev out of a lineup.
The woman drove off when the gunman knocked on her car window and told her to get out. When she returned, she found Cosby dead, shot once in the head beside his car. She later helped police make a composite sketch of the killer.
Photo: Mikail Markhasev
May 1 arraignment set