A lawyer for a murder defendant facing the possibility of the gas chamber said yesterday he will ask a judge to move the trial from Anne Arundel County.
Russell F. Canan, lawyer for Ronald Lamar Scoates,said he was awaiting Scoates' signature on a petition asking Circuit Administrative Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr. for a change in venue. The trial had been scheduled to begin in county Circuit Court May 21.
State law grants a defendant in a capital murder case an automatic change in venue if the defendant says he can not get a fair trial in the jurisdiction in which he was charged, Canan said.
Scoates, 30, of the first block of Monroe Court in Annapolis, is charged with first-degree murder, armed robbery and conspiracy in the July 9, 1990 death of Robert Austin Bell, 52, in Bell's home in the 100 block of 1st Street in Crownsville.
Also charged in Bell's slaying is Michael David Swartz, 24, the adoptive brother of Larry Swartz, who was convicted of murdering his parents in 1984. Michael Swartz -- whose troubled relationship with his adoptive parents in Cape St. Claire was chronicled in the book "Sudden Fury," which centered on the murder of Swartz's adoptive parents -- is scheduled to stand trial on May 7.
A preliminary-motions hearing on that case is scheduled for Monday, said Deputy State's Attorney William D. Roessler. Prosecutors have said they will seek a prison term of life with no parole if Swartz is convicted of murder.
A third co-defendant, Henry Louis Stettler IV, 27, of the first block of Madison Place in Annapolis, pleaded guilty in February to being an accessory to murder after the fact in Bell's death.
Stettler, the son of H. Louis Stettler III, chief deputy state treasurer, faces a maximum of 15 years in prison at his sentencing, scheduled for May 31.
In announcing prosecutors' intention to seek the death penalty for Scoates, county State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee said Scoates' criminal record, which includes a convictionfor murder in Florida, was a factor. Scoates had served less than seven years of a 35-year prison sentence when Florida officials paroledhim last April, three months before the Bell slaying.
Weathersbeesaid Bell volunteered to give Scoates a place to live after he had been paroled.
Police said they believe the men went to Bell's home to either borrow money or steal a glass jar containing quarters. Police have said they believe Swartz and Scoates entered the home while Stettler waited in a car.
Bell's body was discovered by a paper boywho came to collect payment.
Bell had been stabbed several times,police said.
In order to obtain a sentence of death, prosecutors must show thedefendant committed murder under aggravating circumstances and was a "principal in the first degree" -- for example, a triggerman, Weathersbee said. In the Scoates case, he said, prosecutors will attempt to meet the aggravating circumstances requirement by establishing the slaying took place during a robbery.