Columbia teen is guilty of murder Young convicted in rape, slaying of tutor

January 28, 1993|By Alan J. Craver and James M. Coram | Alan J. Craver and James M. Coram,Staff Writers

A Columbia teen-ager described by prosecutors as a cold-blooded killer was convicted early today for the rape and strangulation murder of his home tutor last March.

Alton Romero Young, 17, faces a maximum penalty of two life sentences -- one without parole -- following his 3 a.m. conviction of first-degree felony murder and first-degree rape in Howard County Circuit Court.

Assistant Public Defender Richard Bernhardt immediately asked for a delayed sentencing date.

Young is being held without bond in the county detention center. He was convicted of raping and strangling Shirley Mullinix, 57, of Dayton, after she arrived at his apartment in the 7500 block of Murray Hill Road on March 25, 1992.

A jury of seven women and five men deliberated 9 1/2 hours before finding Young guilty of first-degree felony murder, first-degree rape, and unauthorized use of a vehicle.

Mr. Young stood impassively as the jury was polled -- each member standing and answering "yes" in a strong clear voice when asked, "Is your foreman's verdict your verdict?"

Winopa Addison, Young's mother, broke into sobs when the foreman announced the verdict, flinching uncontrolably with each juror's "yes."

Several seats away, Wayne Mullinix, the victim's husband, stared straight ahead and showed no emotion. "The day has been long -- trying," he said outside the courthouse. "That's all I want to say for now."

"This is most definitely the just result -- the natural consequence of the evidence before the jury," said Prosecutor Joseph Murtha. "I am, of course, very pleased with the outcome."

Mr. Murtha said he would seek a sentence of life with without parole for the murder conviction and a life sentence for the rape conviction. The two sentences would be served simultaneously. Had the jury convicted Young of premeditated first-degree murder, the two life sentences could have been served consecutively.

Determining the difference between first-degree premeditated murder and first-degree felony murder caused the jury to become temporarily deadlocked.

Jurors sent Circuit Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr. a message at 12:10 a.m. saying they had decided everything else and wanted to go home for the night. But after the judge asked them to clarify their situation, they decided to keep on deliberating.

At 2:20 a.m., they asked the judge, "Does intent have to precede felony murder?" He sent them a message saying it did. At 3 a.m. they shared a guilty verdict that seemed to confirm the closing argument of the prosecutor. "This was not the recklessness of youth," he had told the jury. "This was a cold-blooded brutal raping and murdering of Shirley Mullinix."

Defense Attorney Bernhardt acknowledged to the jury that Mr. Young murdered Mrs. Mullinix, but asked the jury for a conviction of second-degree murder. He seemed stunned by the first-degree murder and first-degree rape verdicts. As the courtroom emptied, he stood facing an empty judge's bench for several minutes, holding his hands to head. "I'm disappointed, of course," he said. "That's about all I can say at this time."

The prosecution had played a tape during the trial in which Young told police investigators that he strangled Mrs. Mullinix with his mother's green paisley scarf after an argument over his school work. He told police he took the body to a Kings Contrivance convenience store and left it in the grass behind the store. He also told police he tied the sleeve of the victim's sweat jacket around her neck to make her death look like suicide.

Prosecutor Murtha suggested to the jury that Young first raped Mrs. Mullinix, strangled her to prevent her from reporting the rape, and took several "immature" steps to cover his trail. He threw the victim's belongings in a trash bin, parked her car a short distance from his home, and cleaned his apartment before his mother got home, Mr. Murtha said.

Mr. Bernhardt portrayed Young as having acted in a "childish rage" without taking time to think about his actions. "Sometimes a chain of events is simple," he told the jury. "Sometimes a tragedy is exactly what it appears to be and nothing more."

Mr. Murtha said the evidence was very different. He said Young told investigators that he heard Mrs. Mullinix's heartbeat when he left her body, but instead of seeking medical help, he tied the jacket sleeve around her neck. "He could have stopped. [He] had an opportunity to save Shirley Mullinix. He elected not to."

Jurors said afterward that inconsistencies in Young's testimony convinced them he was guilty of first-degree rape and first-degree felony murder.

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