The trial of a Baltimore County man charged with murdering the mother of his child began yesterday as prosecutors told jurors he had talked often of killing the woman and he "ultimately kept his word."
Neal F. Willy III "stole" 26-year-old Venus Schiflett's life, and "he did it with a gun and one shot," prosecutor Jason League told the jury in opening statements in Baltimore County Circuit Court.
Mr. League argued that an audio cassette on which the defendant allegedly chronicled the events that led to Ms. Schiflett's death and listed "every reason she should die" was evidence of premeditation. Mr. Willy, 30, is charged with first-degree murder in the Lansdowne shooting of Aug. 27, 1989.
"Premeditation occurs when someone thinks about killing, decides to kill and then kills. This defendant decided Venus Schiflett should be killed," Mr. League told the jurors.
But public defenders Todd Nugent and Sally Chester argued that Ms. Schiflett's strained relationship with Mr. Willy, fueled by his desperation to see his daughter Brittany, now 2, led to the slaying.
The public defenders, initially defeated in a plea that Mr. Willy was not criminally responsible for the slaying, told the jury that the defendant is innocent. Mr. Nugent described Mr. Willy as a doting father who wanted a family life.
Witnesses testifying before Judge John Grason Turnbull II spoke of a troubled three-year affair between Mr. Willy and Ms. Schiflett. The defendant also is charged with abducting the child July 14, 1989.
Marie Montz, Ms. Schiflett's mother, testified that Mr. Willy telephoned her daughter the night of the shooting and warned her of her death.
She said the daughter became "nervous and turned white," then called police. Mrs. Montz recalled that her daughter asked her to close the blinds in the living room where the family had gathered to watch television.
But the older woman refused, saying she did not expect trouble to come from the backyard. Minutes later, as an officer in his cruiser guarded the front of the house, a light flashed through the rear window.
A bullet struck Ms. Schiflett in the forehead. She died the next day.
But Ms. Chester, the public defender, contended that on the night of the shooting Mr. Willy called and later went to Ms. Schiflett's home in an attempt at reconciliation, although he knew she had begun a relationship with another man, who sat in the living room.
As he peered through the window "he saw the family he always wanted," Mr. Nugent said. "He saw a mommy, a daddy and a baby. A new daddy in his baby girl's life."