When one of the two hitchhiking Canadian fugitives charged with shooting at a pair of state troopers goes on trial today, the latest chapter will unfold in what has been, for the press north of the border, a national story with elements of soap opera.
Eric W. Schumacher, a 21-year-old Canadian army private, is scheduled to stand trial today in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court for the attempted murder of two state troopers on U.S. 50 near Crownsville in June. The shooting and the 41-hour manhunt for him that followed drew widespread news coverage in Canada and Maryland.
In fact, the story was "huge" in Canada from the time Schumacher and co-defendant Donald R. Nelson were charged in the shooting of a plainclothes police officer near Toronto's SkyDome, said Sue Ann Levy,assistant city editor for the Toronto Sun.
Police shootings, are rare in Canada, and the subsequent manhunt for the two AWOL soldiers became a hot story, said Levy and Stephen Northfield, a reporter for the London (Ontario) Free Press.
"It had all the kind of classic elements of a major crime story up here," Northfield said.
In the week between the police shooting in Canada and the fugitives' arrests in Crownsville, Canadian papers and television dug for personal elements, including an appeal from Schumacher's mother, begging her son toturn himself in.
In Northfield's reports, Nelson's former girlfriend describes their breakup a week before the shooting in Canada and adds, "I love him . . . and I'll learn to forgive."
Geography added to the story's national appeal. An earlier shooting took place in Toronto, Schumacher was from a Montreal suburb, and Nelson was from British Columbia. Both were stationed at an army base in London, Ontario.
Not long after police arrested Nelson and began their search for Schumacher in the woods in Crownsville, Canadian reporters were on Maryland soil. The Toronto Star has a reporter in Annapolis, but the Toronto Sun and the London Free Press are carrying tomorrow's trial through wire services. Lawyers in the case, who say they have been besieged with phone calls from Canadian reporters, said a Washington television production company will cover the trial, presumably for broadcast in Canada.
At a hearing yesterday, a judge rejected defense attorney Timothy D. Murnane's request that a statement Schumacher madeto police after his arrest be thrown out. Tfc. Anthony J.M. Faggio, the state police's lead investigator in the case, said Schumacher admitted firing two shots at two troopers who had stopped him and Nelson.
James Habercam, a paramedic with the Annapolis Fire Department who transported the suspect to the hospital for treatment of an apparent gunshot wound, said Schumacher described hitchhiking from the Canadian border to Baltimore.
Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr. rejected Murnane's argument that his client's statements should be thrown out because he was suffering from thirst and hunger after the manhunt. Schumacher had testified he had "hallucinated" during the manhunt.
AnneArundel County State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee said yesterday he intends to call Larry Dee, the Toronto police constable who was shot, as a witness in the trial.
Murnane outlined yesterday the defense theory of the case. He said both fugitives -- tired, hungry and broke -- were almost relieved to have been arrested and that the shootout arose from "abject panic" by one of the troopers. He said TrooperKimberly Brooks "squealed" when she found a gun on Schumacher and that Trooper Kimberly Bowman may have fired the first shot at Nelson.
Nelson is scheduled to be tried Dec. 17. Both men are being held atthe Anne Arundel County Detention Center.