WESTMINSTER — The scene in Carroll County Circuit Courtroom No. 4 was quiet and low-key yesterday morning for the start of the attempted murder trial of Barry M. Dentler.
That changed in the late afternoon, when Assistant State's Attorney Barton F. Walker III rose to give his opening statement.
"Stop calling the police on me!" Walker suddenly barked at the jury at close range.
"I know you're working for them!" he continued,his voice rising.
"BANG!!" he shouted, simulating the sound of a gunshot. "That was the greeting Mr. Dentler gave Mr. Medicus."
Dentler entered a Finksburg body shop and shouted those words before firing a shot from a .25-caliber semiautomatic handgun at owner Leonard H. Medicus about 2:30 a.m. last Nov. 21, Walker contended. The incident was the culmination of a series of quarrels, he said.
Dentler was arrested and charged with assault with intent to murder and assault with a deadly weapon, as well as drug possession charges.
But Dentler's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Ed Barry, offered quite adifferent account when he delivered his opening argument after Walker.
"I'm not going to start as dramatically and suddenly as Mr. Walker did," Barry told the jury. "The (shooting) never occurred.
"Mr. Medicus made it up."
Those vastly conflicting versions marked the beginning of Dentler's trial, which continues at 10 a.m. today.
At the same time Medicus was fired upon, Barry said Dentler was several hundred feet away, asleep in the van he called home. The defender said he will attempt to show his client was the victim of a "setup" orchestrated by Medicus.
A veteran of the Vietnam War, Dentler was certified as an expert with the M-1 and M-16 rifles. He was exposed to Agent Orange before returning to the United States, the public defender said, adding that Dentler suffered from post-war trauma after hereturned from Southeast Asia.
Dentler was employed by Blue Cross and Blue Shield for 11 years but has been without steady work since 1985, Barry said. Financial problems resulted in Dentler living in a van parked first at a nearby High's Dairy store, then on the grounds at Lennie's Body Shop & Auto Repair, in the 2400 block Baltimore Boulevard.
Barry said the men knew each other for several months. Medicus had agreed to let Dentler use some equipment at the body shop to repair the van's engine, so Dentler moved the van to the shop.
But a series of quarrels -- first over some stolen tools, then over love interests -- led to a falling out between the men, serious enough to lead Medicus to seek revenge against Dentler, Barry said.
Several days before Nov. 21, Medicus waved a .357-caliber Magnum in Dentler'sface, uttering threatening words, Barry said. Dentler filed charges -- still under investigation -- against Medicus and moved his van back to High's.
Walker painted the picture of Medicus as a "family man, a business man," working late hours at the body shop to complete some paperwork. The prosecutor told jurors they would hear testimony from one of Medicus' employees, who was elsewhere in the shop that morning and heard an altercation and a gunshot.
Medicus ducked to avoid the bullet, which lodged in the wall directly behind where Medicus' head was, Walker said.
Police arrested Dentler in his van at theHigh's and found a gun that Dentler fired, Walker argued.
Barry countered that Dentler didn't have a gun, saying the weapon police found was planted.