Michael Swartz convicted in fatal stabbing He faces possible life without parole

June 29, 1991|By Jessamy Brown | Jessamy Brown,Sun Staff Correspondent

ANNAPOLIS -- Michael Swartz, whose brother bludgeoned their parents to death in 1984, was convicted yesterday of stabbing to death a 57-year-old Crownsville man in the course of what police called a robbery.

The Anne Arundel Circuit Court jury deliberated two hours and 50 minutes before finding him guilty of first-degree felony murder in the death of Robert Austin Bell Sr., who was stabbed 48 times in his home last July. The jury of seven women and five men acquitted Swartz, 25, of Annapolis, of the more serious charge of premeditated first-degree murder, as well as two lesser conspiracy charges.

Swartz showed no emotion as the verdict was announced. Mr. Bell's relatives, most of whom attended the weeklong trial, burst into tears and hugged each other while individual jurors confirmed their decision.

"It's been demanding. It's drained us all, but it's helped us get some peace," said Robert Bell Jr. of Gaithersburg, the victim's son.

Swartz faces a possible prison term of life without parole at his sentencing, scheduled for Aug. 29.

His brother, Larry, is serving a 12-year sentence for the 1984 murder of their parents that became the subject of the best-selling book "Sudden Fury."

During the trial, Henry Louis Stettler IV, testified that he drove Swartz and Ronald L. Scoates to Mr. Bell's house to get money for liquor and waited in the car while the others went inside. He said Swartz emerged first, saying they killed the man, and Scoates came out later carrying a pillowcase filled with change and a bloody knife. Stettler, the son of chief Deputy State Treasurer H. Louis Stettler III, pleaded guilty of being an accessory after the fact and is scheduled to be sentenced July 26.

Scoates, who was on parole from a murder sentence in Florida when Mr. Bell was killed, is to stand trial in September. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in his case.

In closing arguments yesterday, Assistant Public Defender James D. McCarthy Jr., who called no witnesses, argued that there is a reasonable doubt that Swartz participated in the stabbing. All the bloody shoe-prints found in the house came from Scoates' shoes, he said.

But Deputy State's Attorney William D. Roessler listed 20 reasons that the jury could be "confident in its decision" that Swartz was guilty. Police found blood on Swartz's shorts. He was seen pulling a knife from under the getaway car's back seat. And when he left the house, he told Stettler, "We killed him. The guy's dead."

The most important piece of evidence, he said, was a bloody palm-print found on the frame of the back door, later identified as being from Michael Swartz. Mr. Roessler said, "That palm-print shows participation. And it's enough to convict."

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