Driver Linked To Killing Pleads Guilty To Aiding

February 27, 1991|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff writer

An Annapolis man pleaded guilty yesterday to being an accessory after the fact in the stabbing death of a 52-year-old man last July in Crownsville.

Henry Louis Stettler IV, 27, of the first block of Madison Place also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit robbery in connection with the death of Robert Austin Bell, who was found dead in his home.

Michael David Swartz, whose parents' brutal murder at the hands of his brother was the subject of a best-selling book, and Ronald Lamar Scoates, who was on parole from a murder conviction in Florida, areawaiting trial for first-degree murder in connection with Bell's death.

During Stettler's hearing yesterday, Deputy State's Attorney William D. Roessler said he has evidence to show both Swartz and Scoates stabbed Bell a total of 45 times.

Stettler drove the men to Bell's home in the 100 block of First Street knowing they would commit arobbery, Roessler said, but not that they would kill or otherwise harm Bell.

The prosecutor added Stettler fled to New York City with Scoates and a woman after the killing.

Stettler -- the son of H. Louis Stettler III, chief deputy state treasurer -- faces a maximum of15 years in prison at his sentencing, scheduled for May 31. But attorneys connected with the case say sentencing guidelines show Stettler, a construction worker who remains free on bond pending sentencing, should receive no more than seven years actual prison time.

In return for Stettler pleading guilty to the two counts, Roessler said he will drop first-degree murder charges against the man. Roessler said state law says any member of a group setting out to commit a felony that ends in murder is guilty of first-degree murder, but he said he was unsure whether he would have been able to prove Stettler assisted in the killing, another element necessary for a conviction. Stettler remained in his car, separated from Bell's home by 100 yards of woods, Roessler said.

Stettler admitted being an accessory to murder after the fact, but entered an "Alford" plea to the charge of conspiring to commit robbery, denying his guilt but admitting the existence ofenough evidence to convict him.

Roessler said the three men and awoman had been drinking vodka last July 9 when they decided to visitBell to borrow money for more liquor. Scoates had lived with Bell after being paroled from Florida. Scoates and Swartz returned to the car with a pillow case containing knives and items stolen from Bell's home, Roessler said. Police have said a jar of quarters was taken fromthe home.

Scoates threatened to kill Stettler if he told authorities of the killing, but Swartz called the police, Roessler said. The prosecutor said he based his version of the incident on interviews with 60 witnesses and an analysis of 100 items of physical evidence, including fingerprints, footprints, tire tracks and blood samples.

Three of Bell's children, their spouses and Bell's sister attended yesterday's hearing. They declined to comment, but Maureen Gillmer, a victim's advocate from the county state's attorney's office, said the family approved of the plea agreement.

County state's attorney Frank R. Weathersbee has said his office will pursue the death penalty against Scoates, whose trial is scheduled for May 21. Swartz -- whose troubled relationship with his adoptive parents in Cape St. Claire waschronicled in the book "Sudden Fury," which centered on Larry Swartz's murder of their parents -- is expected to stand trial in May or June.

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