OAKLAND - Fearing that she could face harsher punishment if convicted of first-degree murder but steadfastly maintaining her innocence, former Mount Airy resident Gloria E. Crutchfield entered an Alford plea to manslaughter Monday in Garrett County Circuit Court.
With her Alford plea, she acknowledges that the state has enough evidence to convict her, but does not admit guilt.
Crutchfield, a 37-year-old grandmother, was charged with first-degree murder in the January 1987 shooting death of her live-in boyfriend, William Richard Lawrence, 46.
If convicted of the murder charge, she could have faced life imprisonment. But under the plea agreement, Crutchfield faces up to 10 years in jail.
Her decision to accept the plea agreement from the Carroll County State's Attorney's Office was a surprise move that came just moments before a jury was about to be selected to hear her case and more than two years after her arrest.
She had asked that the case be moved to this rural mountain community because of the extensive publicity that surrounded her 1987 indictment for murder by a Carroll County grand jury.
The trial set to begin Monday was Crutchfield's second on the murder charge. Her first was here in March 1988, but ended in a mistrial when the jury heard state police testimony about statements she made to police before she was properly advised of her rights.
Garrett Circuit Judge Fred A. Thayer said he accepted Crutchfield's plea Monday because he believed she understood what the plea meant and that she was in a proper mental state to agree to it.
Crutchfield, wearing a floral dress and tightly clutching a handkerchief, wept often during the brief court proceeding, especially when the events surrounding the killing were recounted to the judge.
Carroll State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman said that he "didn't think we gave anything away by getting the plea to manslaughter." He said he was told by the state's attorneys in Garrett County that's what juries there usually find anyway.
Hickman read the judge a statement of the facts from the prosecution's point of view, which summed up the information that witnesses for the state would have given during the trial.
According to the statement of facts, troopers at the state police barracks in Westminster responded on Jan. 17, 1987, to a 911 call from the Mount Airy home Crutchfield and Lawrence shared for two years.
Hickman said the troopers found Lawrence, a wallpaper hanger, dead on the kitchen floor from a gunshot wound just below the chin.
He said Crutchfield told the troopers she had shot Lawrence with a .22-caliber handgun because he attacked her during a "physically abusive domestic argument." She said he gave her the gun as a gift.
Hickman said Crutchfield told the troopers Lawrence had lunged at a her with a kitchen knife and cut her stomach and blouse. Hickman said a forensics expert would have testified at the trial that the blood on the knife and Crutchfield's stomach did not belong to her, but to her slain boyfriend.
He said Crutchfield changed her story several times after that, adding that she tried to shoot Lawrence in the arm to "teach him a lesson," not to kill him.
Crutchfield cried audibly when Hickman read the statement and turned her head away when the gun and knife were shown to the judge.
Sentencing in the case is scheduled for Nov. 21.
Benjamin Lipsitz -- Crutchfield's Baltimore attorney who also defended Albert Bremer, the man who shot Alabama Gov. George Wallace in Maryland in 1972 -- is expected to introduce expert testimony at sentencing on battered woman syndrome.
Crutchfield contends that she was battered by Lawrence on several occasions and was driven to shoot him by the psychological effects of the beatings.
Crutchfield and Lipsitz declined to comment on the plea bargain.