Swartz Plea Upheld

Judge Jettisons His Confession

May 23, 1991|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff writer

A Circuit Court judge yesterday threw out a confession given to police by accused murderer Michael David Swartz.

Swartz, whose parents' murder at the hands of his adoptive brother was the subject of a best-selling book, had told police he and another man stabbed 52-year-old Robert Austin Bell July 9 in the man's Crownsville home.

But the judge agreed with a defense attorney's argument that the confession should be barred from the upcoming trial because Swartz had asked for a lawyer before making the statement.

Swartz, 25, is charged with first-degree murder in Bell's death. At a February court hearing, Deputy State's Attorney William D. Roessler said Bell was stabbed 45 times during a robbery at the man's house in the 100 block of First Street.

During that February hearing, a 27-year-old Annapolis man pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact in Bell'sslaying. Henry Louis Stettler IV -- the son of H. Louis Stettler III, chief deputy state treasurer -- faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

Stettler is expected to testify for the prosecution in Swartz' trial and in the trial of another co-defendant, Ronald Lamar Scoates.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Scoates, who was on parole from a murder conviction in Florida when charged in Bell's slaying. Lawyers for Scoates have asked a judge to move the trial from Anne Arundel County; state law grants a defendant in a capital murder case an automatic change of venue on request.

Prosecutors have said they will seek a prison term of life with no parole if Swartz is convicted of murder. The legal battles in the Swartz case heated up last month when defense attorney James D. McCarthy Jr. askedThieme to throw out Swartz' confession.

The court file indicatedthat Swartz told police he, Scoates and Stettler had been drinking before they went to Bell's house with the intent to commit robbery -- and the knowledge that Bell kept a five-gallon jar of quarters in hishome. Swartz said Scoates put two knives in his waistband before they went to Bell's house. Once there, Stettler waited in the car while Swartz and Scoates went in the house, Swartz told police.

"At onepoint, (Scoates) turned to me and handed me a knife and told me, 'Here, help me out,' " Swartz told police. "I lightly underhanded stabbed the guy in the kidney area at least twice. I backed off and Ronnie finished him off."

Testimony in a preliminary hearing showed Swartz, clad only

in shoes and shorts, ran into the lobby of the Lowe'sHotel on West Street in Annapolis. Behaving hysterically, he said hehad witnessed a murder and thought the murderers were going to kill him.

Police were called but Swartz refused to name the killers, saying it would implicate him. After the officer announced his intention to take Swartz to a police station for further questioning, Swartz said he wanted to get an attorney, a hotel security guard testified.

At the station, Swartz gave his confession.

The motion swung onwhether Swartz was "in custody" when he asked for a lawyer, because such a request made before a defendant is in custody is irrelevant. The judge ruled that in announcing his intention to take Swartz to thestation, the officer had legally taken Swartz into custody even though he had not formally arrested him. Thus, further statements made with no lawyer present are inadmissible, the judge ruled.

McCarthy said only that he is "reassessing" the case in the wake of the judge'sruling. Swartz' trial is scheduled to begin June 13.

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