Man Appeals Conviction For Murder, Gets New Trial

September 22, 1991|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff writer

A Baltimore man convicted two years ago for the murder of his pregnant girlfriend at an Edgewood motel will stand trial on the charge again in Harford Circuit Court this week.

Ethel "Dino" Watson, a 47-year-old mechanic, was granted a new trial after he appealed his conviction of first-degree murder to the state Court of Appeals.

Watson was sentenced to life in prison for the Sept. 23, 1987, beating and strangulation of Jeanette D. Hill, 21, of Washington. Hill was almost six months pregnant at the time of her death.

The new trial, before Circuit Judge Cypert O. Whitfill, is expected to last a week. Jury selection is to start Monday.

The state appeals court ordered the second trial last October, saying that evidence of Watson's prior conviction of second-degree rape should not have been introduced at his murder trial.

At the first trial, in February 1989, Harford Circuit Judge William O. Carr permitted the prosecution to question Watson's character witnesses about the rape conviction, court records say.

Carr allowed the questions to determine if the witnesses' opinions of Watson changed because of their knowledge of the offense, despite the objections of Watson's attorney, records say.

Most of the witnesses, who described Watson as peaceful and non-violent, testified they were aware of the rape conviction and that it had no effect on their opinions, records say.

Watson was convicted of second-degree rape for having intercourse with a consenting 13-year-old girl in 1981, court records show. Watson was 38 at the time.

"It was(an) error in this case to admit in evidence Watson's prior conviction for second-degree rape," Judge Howard S. Chasanow wrote in the appeals court ruling. "The remaining question is whether this error was harmless. We hold that it was not."

Chasanow wrote that the use ofthe word "rape" may have swayed the jury against Watson because theywere not told that the alleged victim consented to sex with the defendant on several occasions.

According to police reports and testimony at the previous murder trial, Watson and Hill traveled to Aberdeen to visit the woman's relatives. On the way, the couple bought liquor and checked into the Chase Manor Motel on Pulaski Highway.

Watson told the police that he took a nap at 2:30 p.m and awakened about two hours later when he heard Hill calling for help from the bathroom.

The defendant reported that he found Hill squatting in the shower, court records say. He said he picked her up, carried her to the bedand helped her dress.

Watson said he then left the room to start his car. When Hill did not emerge from the motel, he went back to theroom, where he found her lying on the floor, according to the court records.

The defendant said he put Hill back on the bed when he noticed blood coming out of her mouth, records say. He then called 911 at about 5:45 p.m.

When an ambulance crew arrived at the motel, they found Watson trying to revive Hill, records say. The crew noted that Hill had been dead for some time because rigor mortis had begun.

During the trial, Watson testified that he and Hill had a 5-year-old son. He said he did not believe he was the father of the child Hillwas carrying at the time of her death.

Watson denied the prosecutor's insinuations that he killed Hill because he was angry that she conceived a child by another man.

An autopsy revealed that the fetus most likely died from blunt-force injuries to Hill's abdomen inflicted several hours before she was strangled, records say.

The autopsy showed that Hill's death was caused by strangulation and multiple blows to the head with a human fist or a blunt instrument, records say. The report also said Hill had used the drug PCP, or phenocyclidine, before she was killed.

Assistant state's attorney M. Elizabeth Bowen, who prosecuted Watson at the first trial, will prosecute the defendant again. Watson is represented by assistant public defender John J. Henderson.

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