The state of Maryland alleges that it was first-degree premeditated murder when Alfred Smith Jr. stabbed Thomas Sullivan more than 25 times in the chest and back last Sept. 14.
Mr. Smith's attorney, Jerri Peyton, said it was self-defense. "Al Smith fought for his life, ladies and gentleman," Ms. Peyton told a Baltimore County Circuit Court jury yesterday. "And he won."
This is the second time Mr. Smith, 39, has been charged with murder in Maryland. In the summer of 1976 he was charged with shooting a Havre de Grace man six times. Mr. Smith pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and received a 15-year sentence. He was released from prison in 1982.
Because of a new rule adopted by the state Court of Appeals, however, if Mr. Smith testifies in this homicide trial, the state won't be able to try to use his earlier murder conviction against him, said Mike DiPietro, an assistant state's attorney. The new rule says that as long as someone has stayed out of trouble for 15 years, serious convictions handed down before that cannot be used to try to impeach their testimony in court, he said.
According to Ms. Peyton, Mr. Smith will most likely testify today to offer his explanation of the killing which, Ms. Peyton said in her opening statement, occurred after Mr. Sullivan, 23, broke into Mr. Smith's Essex home.
"They had words," Ms. Peyton told the jury. "Harsh words. He came at Al Smith and he stabbed him. . . . Thomas Sullivan was killed in self-defense."
Mr. DiPietro, in his opening statement, described the killing as "brutal. . . . The victim was stabbed more than 25 times -- 15 times in the back, 10 times in the front."
The state's chief witnesses, Donna and Richard Cearfoss, lived next door to Mr. Smith in the first block of Luff Court, between state Route 702 and Back River Neck Road.
Donna Cearfoss testified yesterday that she, her husband and Mr. Smith began smoking crack cocaine about 6 p.m. on Friday Sept. 13. They continued smoking crack and drinking beer well past midnight, she testified.
Mr. Smith, she said, went with her at least three times to purchase more crack. One of those times they bought the drug from the victim, Thomas Sullivan, she testified.
Around midnight Charles Kevin Moran, 24, of Fens Court in Essex joined their party, Mrs. Cearfoss said. (Mr. Moran is also charged with murdering Mr. Sullivan. His trial is scheduled for Tuesday.) After the party broke up, Mrs. Cearfoss said she heard shouting and banging noises coming from Mr. Smith's home.
She said her husband went to the front door of Mr. Smith's house and saw Mr. Sullivan being chased and stabbed by Mr. Smith. Mrs. Cearfoss, meanwhile, said she went out her back door and peered through Mr. Smith's rear window.
"I saw Tommy come down the stairs first," she said. "Al was coming down after him. He was stabbing Tommy as he was coming toward the window . . . There was blood on all the walls, on the ceiling; the carpet was soaked with blood."
Under cross-examination, Mrs. Cearfoss admitted that she and her husband didn't call police until several days later. But she said she was afraid of Mr. Smith. Mrs. Cearfoss also admitted that she aided Mr. Smith and Mr. Moran by acting as a lookout, when the pair allegedly removed Mr. Sullivan's corpse from Mr. Smith's home the evening of Sept. 14.
Although the earlier murder conviction cannot be used against Mr. Smith at trial, Mr. DiPietro said that if Mr. Smith is convicted, the 1976 conviction could be brought up at sentencing.