Man gets 5 years in wife's death Howard resident caused fall off ladder

June 27, 1993|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff Writer

A Marriottsville man will spend five years in prison for kicking a ladder his wife was standing on, causing her to fall to her death.

John Carroll Calhoun, 52, was sentenced to 10 years in prison but had five years suspended in a Howard County Circuit Court hearing Thursday.

He pleaded guilty March 11 to voluntary manslaughter.

Calhoun asked Judge Raymond Kane Jr. for a lenient sentence, saying that he feels he has already been punished for his wife's death.

"I deeply miss my wife," Calhoun said, choking back tears.

But Judge Kane decided to follow the prosecution's recommended sentence to make an example of Calhoun and to deter others from committing a crime.

"I think it's necessary to punish the defendant for his acts," Judge Kane said.

Voluntary manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

A presentence investigation by the Howard County Department of Parole and Probation recommended a sentence of between three months and four years for Calhoun.

Calhoun's sister and several friends spoke on his behalf before the sentencing, saying he is a changed man, with a new focus on religion and family.

Relatives and friends of Mrs. Calhoun -- including Calhoun's two daughters from his first marriage -- sat behind the prosecutor's table. Most wore black armbands and passed a picture of the victim among themselves.

The group sobbed and comforted one another as Calhoun was led from the courtroom by sheriff deputies after the sentencing.

The prosecution says Calhoun left Gladys Esther Calhoun, 45, to die after she fell from a 16-foot aluminum ladder and struck her head on scaffolding stacked in the yard of their Thompson Drive house on May 13, 1992.

Calhoun told police he went about his day and, hours later, allowed relatives to find his wife's body, instead of calling for medical help.

"He saw her fall," Assistant State's Attorney Kate O'Donnell said. "He saw her massive head injury. And he left her there. He went to the hardware store to get joint compound."

Ms. O'Donnell noted that Calhoun denied being home at the time of his wife's death during three interviews with police investigators. Calhoun admitted kicking the ladder at the fourth interview, nearly a month after Mrs. Calhoun's death.

Calhoun confessed after investigators confronted him with a note showing that Mrs. Calhoun knew he'd had an affair with a woman he worked with at the National Security Agency at Fort Meade, Ms. O'Donnell said.

Detectives also learned that Mrs. Calhoun once stated that if she died unexpectedly, her death would not be an accident.

Calhoun's attorney said his client simply panicked after his wife fell.

"He couldn't deal with what happened," said Jonathan Scott Smith, a Columbia lawyer. "He couldn't deal with what he did. Therefore, he denied being there."

Mr. Smith described Calhoun as a man shaped by traumatic events.

While on a trip in Africa, Calhoun came across a car accident in which the driver was pinned behind the steering wheel while his family was severely injured, Mr. Smith said.

Calhoun blamed himself for the man's death when he could not free him, Mr. Smith said. When the man's daughter died, Calhoun again felt guilty for not getting the girl to the hospital quickly enough.

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