Michael Swartz loses appeal

January 01, 1993|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Staff Writer

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals has upheld the first-degree murder conviction of Michael D. Swartz for his role in the 1990 stabbing death and robbery of a Crownsville man.

Swartz, 26, was sentenced Nov. 20, 1991, to life in prison without parole for the murder of Robert Austin Bell Sr. His brother, Larry Swartz, is serving a 12-year sentence for bludgeoning their parents to death in 1984 at the family home in Cape St. Claire.

Michael Swartz and Ronald L. Scoates, of Annapolis, were convicted of stabbing Mr. Bell 48 times during a $50 robbery in July 1990. Henry Louis Stettler IV, also of Annapolis, was sentenced to a year in jail for driving the getaway car.

In July, a panel of three Anne Arundel County Circuit Court judges modified Michael Swartz's sentence by allowing him the possibility of parole.

In the appeal of the conviction, Swartz's attorney, James D. McCarthy, Jr., argued that the trial should have been moved to another jurisdiction because of sensational pre-trial publicity and the notoriety of his brother, who was the subject of "Sudden

Fury," a book about the parents' deaths and the subsequent investigation.

Maryland's intermediate appellate court found that the individual questioning of the jurors eliminated all who might have been prejudiced by pretrial publicity. The defense also failed to show that the advance publicity prevented Swartz from getting a fair trial, the court ruled.

Mr. McCarthy also argued that Stettler should not have been allowed to testify at Swartz's trial. Stettler was seen discussing his testimony with another witness and drinking alcoholic beverages at a local restaurant during a lunch recess.

The appeals court ruled that the lower court correctly handled the situation by questioning Stettler and determining that his continuing his testimony would not prejudice the case. The court was also correct in calling for a one-day recess to allow Stettler to sober up.

The appeals court also rejected claims that the evidence against Swartz was not strong enough to convict him, that the trial judge erred in instructions to the jury and that the jury's verdict was inconsistent because it convicted Swartz of felony murder without finding him guilty of a felony, such as robbery.

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