A lawyer for accused murderer Michael David Swartz yesterday said sensational pre-trial publicity will prevent his client from receiving a fair trial in Anne Arundel County. But a judge withheld ruling on the attorney's request that the trial be moved.
Swartz, whose parents' murder at the hands of his adoptive brother was the subject of a best-selling book, is scheduled to stand trial June 13 on a charge offirst-degree murder in the stabbing death of 52-year-old Robert Austin Bell last July 9 in the man's Crownsville home.
During a Circuit Court hearing yesterday, Assistant Public Defender James D. McCarthy Jr. said the book, along with newspaper coveragethat "sensationalizes" Michael Swartz's case by linking it to his brother's, has created a "high-profile case" which "cries out" for a change in venue.
In making his argument, McCarthy cited articles in the May 23 editions of the Anne Arundel County Sun and The Capital, describing Circuit Judge Raymond G. Thieme's ruling throwing out a confession Swartz gave to police. McCarthy cited circulation figures forthe papers, hoping to convince the judge the publicity was extensiveenough to doom efforts to find an impartial jury to hear the 25-year-old Annapolis man's case.
McCarthy also cited an article in The Washington Postthat linked Michael Swartz's case to his brother's and he said former Evening Sun reporter and editor Leslie Walker's 1989 book, "Sudden Fury," has been a "phenomenal success" in Anne Arundel County. The book, which made the New York Times best-seller list for paperbacks, describes the events that led Larry Swartz to stab to death his parents at their Cape St. Claire home.
Responding to the defense attorney's claim that the book's popularity will make it impossible for Michael Swartz to receive a fair trial in Anne Arundel County, Thieme said, "I don't want to be facetious, Mr. McCarthy, but that presupposes people read books."
In opposing McCarthy's motion, Deputy State's Attorney William D. Roessler said a large number of potential jurors have never even heard of the case.
Asked whether the publicity, which has often portrayed the Swartz brothers as victims ofabusive parents, in fact helps his client by painting him as a sympathetic character, McCarthy refused to comment.
After Thieme reserved ruling on the motion, the lawyers for the two sides described the possible outcomes. Either Thieme will grant the motion and order a change of venue or he will order potential jurors to be questioned one-at-a-time to see if they are impartial. After that questioning, Thieme would decide if the case can be heard in Anne Arundel, they said.
The trial of Ronald Lamar Scoates, one of Swartz' co-defendants, has been moved to Queen Anne's County. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Scoates, who was on parole from a murder conviction inFlorida when charged in Bell's slaying; state law grants a defendantin a capital murder case an automatic change of venue on request.
A third co-defendant, Henry Louis Stettler IV, 27, of Annapolis, haspleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact in Bell's slaying. Stettler -- the son of H. Louis Stettler III, chief deputy state treasurer -- is expected to testify for the prosecution in the Swartz and Scoates trials.
Roessler has said Bell was stabbed 45 times during a robbery at the man's house in the 100 block of First Street. The court file indicates 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 his home.