Scoates' Lawyers Try To Shift Blame To Co-defendant

November 19, 1991|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff writer

CENTREVILLE — Lawyers for convicted murderer Ronald L. Scoates yesterday began thefight for the Annapolis man's life by pointing to the blood on co-defendant Michael David Swartz's hands.

Scoates, a paroled murderer from Florida facing the gas chamber for the stabbing death and $50 robbery of his former housemate in Crownsville, did not actually kill Robert Austin Bell, defense attorney Russell F. Canan said.

Canan asked a Queen Anne's County jury to spare Scoates' life because the state had proven him guilty only of felony first-degree murder -- of being involved in a felony crime that ended in murder. Recall the blood on Swartz's hands and shoes and remember the bloody palm print left by Swartz at the scene, Canan told the jury, and sentence Scoates to life without parole.

The lawyer went on to tell the jury of a childhood marked by rejection and pistol whippings. Abandoned by his teen-age mother and beaten by his alcoholic father, Canan said, Scoates was never taught values, was never taught to love.

"He was taught violence and he was taught to steal by his father," he said. "This is a person who had a deeply flawed life. . . . He was put ina situation where he was not equipped to deal with life."

Canan'sremarks came on the first day of the death penalty hearing. The hearing began with prosecutor William D. Roessler reading to the jury letters written by three children of the 52-year-old murder victim.

Daughter Sherry Boger, 34, wrote of a gentle man who did not deserve to die a violent death. She wrote: "When my daughter sees me crying, she wipes away the tears and says, 'Mommy, it's OK.' It's not OK."

Christina Jaroszek wrote, "I will never stop longing for the laughter, the touch, the voice that brought sunshine to my days or hear one more 'I love you' from dear old Dad."

Robert Bell Jr., the victim's35-year-old son, wrote that he found his father's loss "unbearable" and said he now has a hard time getting close to his loved ones. "I'mjust afraid of going through this type of trauma again," he wrote.

After a four-day trial, the Queen Anne's County jury deliberated for two hours and 20 minutes before convicting Scoates Oct. 28 in Bell's murder. Bell had briefly allowed Scoates to live in his Crownsvillehome after Scoates was paroled in April 1990, having served less than seven years of a 35-year sentence for second-degree murder in Florida.

Evidence presented during Scoates' trial and during the trial of co-defendant Swartz showed Bell was killed in connection with the robbery of quarters and other change from a glass jar kept in the man's bedroom.

Testifying during Scoates' trial, another co-defendant, Henry Louis Stettler IV, quoted Scoates as saying after the slaying, "I can't believe I killed a man for 50 bucks."

The trial was moved to Queen Anne's County at the request of lawyers for Scoates. State law grants a defendant in a capital murder case an automatic changeof venue on request.

Roessler said he will ask for a sentence of life without parole at Swartz's sentencing, scheduled for tomorrow. Swartz, 25, of Annapolis, is the adoptive brother of Larry Swartz, whois serving a 12-year prison sentence for murdering their parents in Cape St. Claire in 1984.

Roessler said Scoates' prior murder conviction was one reason to seek the death penalty. He said it should outweigh any mitigation Scoates presents.

Proceedings halted yesterday when a judge balked at Canan's request to introduce a social workeras an expert witness on the "effects of socialization on individuals."

Judge John W. Sause Jr. said he would rule on the matter when the hearing resumes this morning.

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