Scoates sentenced to life in prison Queen Anne's jury rejects death penalty

November 20, 1991|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Sun Staff Correspondent

CENTREVILLE N — CENTREVILLE -- A Queen Anne's County jury refused last night to condemn to death an Annapolis man convicted of murdering and robbing his former housemate last year in Crownsville.

The jury deliberated for two hours and 45 minutes before sentencing 31-year-old Ronald L. Scoates to life in prison with no chance for parole.

Scoates displayed little outward reaction to the ruling and declined to comment.

Prosecutors had sought the death penalty for Scoates, a paroled murderer from Florida convicted last month in the July 1990 stabbing death and $50 robbery of 57-year-old Robert Austin Bell.

In determining the sentence, the jury ruled Scoates' life should be spared because of mitigating factors relating to a childhood spent with a hard-drinking, dysfunctional family. The jury described the man's father as a "sadistic, lawless role model."

The sentencing was described as fair by people on both sides of the case. Robert Bell Jr., the victim's 35-year-old son, said he had mixed emotions about the death penalty. "I think justice has been served," he said.

During the two-day sentencing hearing, his lawyers suggested that co-defendant Michael D. Swartz was the killer.

Moments before the jury retired to consider its decision, a visibly nervous Scoates said, "I didn't kill Bob Bell. I took money from him, which is wrong. This really hurts me to ask you this. I'm begging for mercy because I don't want to die."

The jury ruled Scoates had caused Mr. Bell's death, but was swayed by testimony about a Florida childhood described by defense attorney Russell F. Canan as "almost too bizarre for words."

Family members and social workers said Scoates was abandoned by his mother and was pistol-whipped and taught to steal by his alcoholic father, who terrorized family members with live alligators. His most "positive relationship" was with a grandfather who started each day with a shot of liquor and liked to cradle a pistol in his hands while watching television, testimony showed.

Prosecutor William D. Roessler asked the jury to concentrate on Scoates' behavior after being paroled upon serving less than seven years of a 35-year sentence for second-degree murder in Florida. Testimony showed he beat his wife and was arrested on drug charges.

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