The state of Maryland alleges that it was 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, says 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 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 then cannot be used to try to impeach that person's testimony in court, he said.
According to Ms. Peyton, Mr. Smith will most likely testify today about the killing, which, she 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 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. and continued smoking crack and drinking beer well past midnight.
She and Mr. Smith bought crack from Mr. Sullivan that night.
Around midnight, Charles Kevin Moran, 24, of Fens Court in Essex joined their party, Mrs. Cearfoss said. (Mr. Moran also is 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 while her husband went to the front door of Mr. Smith's house, she went to the back door and looked through the 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 . . ."
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.