The mother of Eugenia Courtalis, a 22-year-old sales clerk murdered last spring in Towson, testified yesterday that she knew something was wrong when her daughter failed to return home by midnight.
"I started worrying because it wasn't like Gina," said Tina Courtalis, of the 4200 block of Darnall Road, Perry Hall.
Her daughter's body was discovered by police and family members June 2 in a rear file room of the Nutri-System Weight Loss Center at the Towson Marketplace in the 1200 block of Putty Hill Avenue. Miss Courtalis had been stabbed repeatedly in the back.
Robert Patrick Lipinski, 27, of Dundalk, who is charged with first-degree murder in the case, has waived his right to a jury trial and the case is to be decided by Baltimore County Circuit Judge Dana M. Levitz.
According to police, Mr. Lipinski, who worked cleaning offices, has admitted stabbing Miss Courtalis. He initially filed a plea of insanity and was evaluated by doctors who determined that he was competent to stand trial.
Mr. Lipinski pleaded not guilty to the prosecution's charge of first-degree murder, which requires premeditation and carries a maximum sentence of life without parole. If found guilty of the lesser charge of second-degree murder, Mr. Lipinski could face up to 30 years in prison.
In his opening arguments yesterday in a courtroom occupied by more than 60 friends and relatives of Miss Courtalis, prosecutor Michael G. DeHaven said Mr. Lipinski had followed the young woman after she managed to break away from him. Miss Courtalis tried to fight, Mr. DeHaven said, but "the defendant was able to pin her down, and stab her repeatedly."
Mr. Lipinski then ripped the telephone lines from the walls, Mr. DeHaven told the court, "and walked right past the body" as he left the building.
It was then, Mr. DeHaven said, that Mr. Lipinski left a bloody sneaker print in the file room. Detectives testified that they matched the print to shoes Mr. Lipinski said he had been wearing the day he cleaned the Nutri-System building.
Under questioning by prosecutor Robin S. Coffin, Baltimore County homicide Detective Michael Peregoy testified that during his third interview with Mr. Lipinski the defendant admitted having killed the young woman after she gave him a dirty look.
The detective said Mr. Lipinski told him that Miss Courtalis had been in a hurry to leave that night and they had exchanged words over how long it was taking him to clean the center.
"I asked him to be honest . . . I asked him to get the matter off his chest," Detective Peregoy testified. "He was honest, and told me that he had, in fact, stabbed Miss Courtalis to death" with a butterfly knife that was in his pants pocket.
During cross-examination, however, defense attorney Walter F. Balint questioned Detective Peregoy about how the fight started. He suggested that Miss Courtalis had swung at Mr. Lipinski after he referred to her as a "bitch."
Frank H. Marchant, co-owner of Genie Cleaning Service, the company that employed Mr. Lipinski, described the defendant as "a perfect employee." Mr. Marchant also testified that he sent Mr. Lipinski, who routinely cleaned the Nutri-System stores in Hunt Valley and Towson, back to the scene of the crime to clean the store, never believing that Mr. Lipinski could have been responsible for a young girl's murder.
"People raved about him," Mr. Marchant testified. "He always did a perfect job . . . he was a very easy-going person."