A Baltimore County Circuit Court judge must re-evaluate a first-degree murder conviction he handed down to a Dundalk cleaning man who admitted stabbing to death Eugenia "Gina" Courtalis, a 22-year-old Towson diet center employee.
The Court of Special Appeals this week ruled that Judge Dana M. Levitz must reconsider the testimony and evidence against Robert P. Lipinski, who was convicted of the June 1, 1991, murder in January 1992, to decide if Lipinski is guilty of first- or second-degree murder.
"We believe that . . . the trial court blurred the distinction between first- and second-degree murder," the Court of Special Appeals opinion stated.
Robin Coffin, the assistant state's attorney who prosecuted Lipinski, said Judge Levitz decided the case based on what were then the definitions of first- and second-degree murder.
But six months after the conviction, the Maryland Court of Appeals issued a ruling that altered the distinction between the two.
Under the old definition, a defendant could be found guilty of first-de
gree murder if he had formed an intent to kill -- even if that only took an instant.
The new definition says a defendant must have "had sufficient time to consider the decision whether or not to kill and weigh the reasons for and against such a decision."
In testimony and in statements to police, Lipinski said that Ms. Courtalis, who worked for Nutri-Systems at Towson Marketplace, was rushing him to finish cleaning the office, and they argued. He said because of pressures from his job and home, he lost control and in a blind rage, he began stabbing her.
Evidence showed that Ms. Courtalis was stabbed twice in the chest and then ten times in the back with a pocketknife Lipinski was carrying.
Ms. Coffin said Lipinski will not be tried again. However, the appeals court ruled that Judge Levitz must alter his sentence somewhat even if he finds Lipinski guilty of first-degree murder after the reconsideration.
The judge sentenced Lipinski to life in prison and stipulated that the first 25 years must be served before he is eligible for parole. Under the appeals court decision, the minimum time served before parole eligibility would be reduced to 15 years.