An Annapolis man has been sentenced to a year in jail for being an accessory to the murder of a man stabbed in his Crownsville home during a $50 robbery.
Henry Louis Stettler IV, 28, becomes the third person to be sentenced in connection with the July 1990 murder of 57-year-old Robert Austin Bell, who was stabbed more than 40 times. He received a reduced sentence for testifying against Ronald L. Scoates andMichael D. Swartz, both of whom were sentenced to life in prison with no chance for parole after being convicted of first-degree murder.
Stettler faced a maximum sentence of 15 years after pleading guilty in February to being an accessory after the fact to murder and to conspiring to rob Bell. To the conspiracy charge, Stettler entered anAlford plea, denying guilt but admitting the existence of enough evidence to convict him.
In a hearing Friday in Circuit Court, DeputyState's Attorney William D. Roessler said there is no direct evidence to suggest Stettler knew Swartz and Scoates were planning to rob Bell when he drove them to the man's house on July 9, 1990. Roessler asked the judge not to add additional time for conspiracy to Stettler'ssentence for being an accessory.
Evidence showed Stettler waited in his car until Swartz and Scoates returned from Bell's house. Defense attorney Keith B. Krissoff said Stettler drove the men away from the murder scene after being threatened by Scoates, who was armed witha knife. He said Stettler drove Scoates to New York only after beingthreatened again by Scoates, who was on parole for murder in Floridawhen he killed Bell.
"If ever a person had the apparent ability to carry out a threat, it was Mr. Scoates," Krissoff told the court. The defense lawyer said Stettler had no history of being involved in violent crime -- his record includes only "a number of" charges of driving under the influence. Krissoff stressed that his client's "indiscretion" came only after the murder had been committed.
Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr. interrupted Krissoff: "He helped two murderers to escape. You can dress it up any way you want, but that's the bottom line."
But when it was time to sentence Stettler, the judge agreed that Stettler had, through his testimony, made efforts to "rectify" hisprior attempts to help a murderer avoid justice.
Thieme sentencedStettler to five years in prison and suspended all but one year. Thieme said he could serve his time in the county detention center with work releaseprivileges. Krissoff said Stettler works as a roofer.
Noting that Stettler had placed himself at risk in testifying in the trials, both lawyers had asked the judge not to send him to the stateprison system's Reception, Diagnostic and Classification Center, where Swartz and Scoates are being held.
Thieme also placed Stettler on five years' probation and ordered him to pay $145 in court costs.
During the hearing, Stettler apologized to his family and the Bellfamily, adding: "There are no words I can find to express the shame I feel for being involved in such a horrible incident. . . . I seemedto have gotten caught up with the wrong people."
Stettler declined to comment after the sentencing, as did his father, H. Louis Stettler III, the deputy state treasurer, and other members of his family. Krissoff said Stettler was married less than a week ago to a woman hemet after he was charged in the murder.
Roessler said Thieme's comments during the hearing had led him to expect a stiffer sentence.
Afterward, he said, "I have mixed feelings about the sentence. I know the (Bell) family would have liked a longer sentence. However, they expected him to receive less than five years' incarceration, and the state and Mr. Bell's family both agree Mr. Stettler should not be incarcerated with the other two and his involvement is significantly less than theirs."