Judge fights tears in sentencing killer to life term Defendant, orphaned by murderous brother, slew Crownsville man.

November 21, 1991|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Evening Sun Staff

When the time came to sentence murderer Michael Swartz, even the judge struggled to fight back the tears.

On the defense table yesterday sat Michael Swartz's Bible and a copy of "Sudden Fury." The 1989 best-seller told of brother Larry Swartz's 1984 murder of their parents in Cape St. Claire. But whole chapters were devoted to Michael's childhood of foster homes and, in the Swartz household, his unmet demands for love and acceptance.

More than an hour before Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Lawrence H. Rushworth would announce Swartz's fate -- life in prison with no chance for parole -- the rawboned, 6-foot, 6-inch Swartz stood and cried and told his life story.

He said he has rediscovered God. He said he still doesn't understand how his adoptive parents, Bob and Kay Swartz, could have been so cold, but he added, "I've come to the conclusion they loved me. They just didn't know how to show it."

Swartz, 25, said he remains confused about his parents' murders but can now forgive his brother: "I'll always hate what he did, but he's my brother and he's all I've got."

And, ignoring his lawyer's advice, he described his role in the July 9, 1990, knifing of Robert Austin Bell, 57, of Crownsville.

He said he and co-defendant Ronald L. Scoates had been drinking heavily when, looking for money, they went to Bell's house. Swartz said he was shaking the man's hand when "Ronnie just started stabbing him for no reason. I reacted to that and started stabbing."

He said he stabbed Bell in the back and then turned around to avoid watching what followed.

"Ronnie -- How can I put this? -- he killed him," Swartz said. "I just couldn't believe I was part of this."

Bell was stabbed 48 times.

A Queen Anne's County jury Tuesday night sentenced Scoates, 31, a paroled murderer from Florida, to life without parole.

Swartz was convicted in June of felony first-degree murder.

Yesterday, Rushworth said he had a copy of "Sudden Fury" but had deliberately avoided reading it. He acknowledged that Swartz had suffered from a "peculiar and difficult background," but told him, "The fact of the matter is you engaged in a very sordid and senseless and savage offense."

Rushworth swallowed hard and, in a quivering voice, pronounced the sentence.

Defense attorney James D. McCarthy Jr., his eyes still moist after the hearing, said he would appeal the verdict and sentence.

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