During an argument in a Highlandtown grocery store, a 27-year-old man shoves the 51-year-old owner of the store. The store owner suffers a heart attack and dies.
Is the younger man guilty of manslaughter?
That's the question posed yesterday to a Baltimore Circuit Court jury in the case of State of Maryland vs. John Frank Terranova.
Prosecutor Michael C. Flannery told the jury in his opening statement that Mr. Terranova is indeed guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the June 3, 1992, death of Conrad Leimbach.
Mr. Flannery said the jury could resolve the case by answering a single question: "Did the death occur during that crime, during the assault? And did the assault cause the heart attack?
"The medical examiner will testify the stress of that attack caused the man to have a heart attack," the prosecutor added. "He was obviously a heart attack waiting to happen, whether he knew it or not. The defendant, through his criminal act, caused him to have a heart attack."
Mr. Terranova's attorney, Robert T. Durkin Jr., told the jury in his opening statement that Mr. Leimbach provoked the confrontation that ended in his death. "Provocation is a defense to involuntary manslaughter," the lawyer said. "We have a defense in this case that is as valid as any in the land -- self-defense."
Mr. Durkin said his client, an electrician at a Howard County country club, grew up in a house behind Mr. Leimbach's American Quality Foods. He said he had rented a second-floor apartment above the store in the 3200 block of E. Lombard St., but the apartment had no lock on its door upstairs. He said Mr. Leimbach repeatedly entered the apartment, prompting Mr. Terranova to try to place a lock on a rear entrance to both the store and the stairway leading to the apartment.
Mr. Leimbach responded by using profanity while trying to take that back door off the hinges, Mr. Durkin said. Mr. Terranova then pushed his way through the store's front door and said he was going to get the landlord before pushing the store owner, the lawyer said.
Describing the argument inside the store, Mr. Flannery, the prosecutor, said, "An older man who was walking away from [Mr. Terranova] in his own store, a man who isn't saying anything other than, 'Call the police,' is shoved down and he dies."
Mr. Terranova, who is free on $10,000 bail, was originally charged with first-degree murder after being arrested within hours of the 7 p.m. incident.
He was indicted, however, on charges of manslaughter and assault.
If convicted of manslaughter, he faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
The jury is scheduled to begin hearing testimony when the trial resumes today before Judge Kenneth L. Johnson.