A Baltimore County man was convicted yesterday of premeditated murder for shooting his ex-girlfriend through the window of her home because she had refused to let him visit their daughter.
A Circuit Court jury deliberated for about three hours before finding Neal F. Willy, 30, a former laborer for Locke Insulators of Baltimore, guilty of first-degree murder and of using a handgun to commit a felony.
He could be sentenced to a maximum of life in prison for the murder and 20 years for the handgun charge, in addition to a 14-year prison term he is currently serving for violating probation in an earlier case.
Willy was on probation from a sentence for harassing a Baltimore woman when he was charged with the Aug. 27, 1989, slaying of Venus A. Schiflett, 27, of Lansdowne -- a killing he never denied.
Instead, during his four-day trial, Willy's attorneys argued that he had not plotted the slaying but had panicked and reacted out of rage -- a distinction that separated first-degree murder from a less serious charge.
Defense lawyers Sally Chester and Thomas Nugent called witnesses who described Willy as a devoted father. They said he showered young Brittany Willy, now 2, with gifts, planned for her future and provided for her even when he and Ms. Schiflett were bitterly estranged.
"This is a man who wanted a family, and yet he destroyed it. There's no question about that," Ms. Chester, a public defender, told the jury during closing arguments.
But, she added, "This is not a case of premeditation but a man desperate to see his daughter."
Prosecutors Kim Detrick and Jason League disagreed, saying Willy bought a gun and carried out a threat he had made when he told
doctors who treated him at a psychiatric hospital that he was going to kill Ms. Schiflett.
"He killed Venus Schiflett before the eyes of an 11-month-old girl -- the girl he claimed to love," Ms. Detrick said in her closing argument.
Willy testified in his own defense, corroborating a confession he taped during a suicide attempt a day after the murder.
In court and on the tape, Willy described the brief relationship with Ms. Schiflett that led to their daughter's birth, his dislike of the way she cared for the girl and his anger about a new relationship she began after the couple's breakup.
Willy was charged after the breakup with abducting Brittany twice. The abduction charges were dropped during the proceeding.
On the stand, Willy recalled the night of the murder, when he stood outside Ms. Schiflett's living room window, gun in hand, watching her and her family.
"I looked at Venus, then I looked at Brittany, and I asked myself, 'Why is she trying to keep me away from her?' " Willy testified. Then he saw Ms. Schiflett's new boyfriend, Charles Jeffrey Williams, walk in the room.
"I knew at that moment Venus had no plans for me to be Brittany's father," Willy said.
"I pointed the gun at Venus' chest, then at her head, and thought about Jeff being the daddy of my little girl. . . . and the gun went off," he concluded, bowing his head in tears.