Deaf man, 73, testifies silently about slayings of wife, friend

September 17, 1993|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Staff Writer

LA PLATA -- James E. Attwell, who cannot hear or speak, gave chilling testimony yesterday through a sign-language interpreter about the day an intruder broke into his home and killed his wife and a family friend.

Margaret Attwell, 70, was stabbed in the chest and her skull was crushed. Clara Vickers, 86, who was visiting from Booker, Texas, had her throat cut. She died at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, about a week after the May 18, 1992, attack.

Mr. Attwell, 73, the first witness in the capital murder trial of Charles H. Emanuel, 31, of Aberdeen, could not identify the defendant yesterday. He said the attacker wore a towel over his face.

Mr. Emanuel is charged with two counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted murder and counts of burglary, robbery and arson. The case, which was to continue today, was moved from Baltimore County to Charles County.

Prosecutor A. Dean Stocksdale said that an FBI agent will testify that DNA testing proves that Mrs. Vickers' blood was on Mr. Emanuel's clothing at the time of his arrest.

The Attwells had celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary the day before the attack. On the day of the attack, Mr. Attwell said, he took a nap about 4 p.m. as his wife and Mrs. Vickers prepared dinner. He awoke to find an intruder holding them at knife-point.

The stranger had kicked in the rear basement door of their home in the 21000 block of W. Liberty Road. The Attwells and Mrs. Vickers did not hear him because they are deaf.

Mr. Attwell said the man demanded cash, then became angry when he turned his pants pockets inside out to show that he had no money.

The stranger then forced them into a back bedroom, returned and pointed for Mrs. Attwell to follow him. Mr. Attwell said his wife was frightened, but he motioned to her that it would be OK to go with the man.

After a few moments, the man returned and pointed at Mr. Attwell, who followed him into a hallway. There, Mr. Attwell said, he was hit on the head with a wine bottle. He pushed his attacker away, and searched for his wife.

A knife cut into his side, he said. The stranger came toward him again, swinging the knife. Mr. Attwell said he grabbed it by the blade, slicing his hand but still managing to knock the knife out of the man's hand.

"I was looking for where my wife was," he said. "I was not afraid of him."

Mr. Attwell said the attacker wrestled him to the ground and tried to smother him with a pillow. But Mr. Attwell held his arms in front of his face. The intruder then ran to the bedroom, where he grabbed Mrs. Vickers.

"I saw him slash her neck with this devilish grin, this menacing grin," said Mr. Attwell, who also said he could do little to stop the young man.

"I'm an old man," he said. "But I tried to fight him. I tried, but about all I could do was to push him."

Mr. Attwell said his assailant dragged him into the kitchen, tied him up with rope, then left. Mr. Attwell, who said he had spread his hands while being tied up, later untied himself. He searched for his wife, found her in the front bedroom and ran to get help.

As he pulled out of his driveway, he saw the man running toward him. Mr. Attwell said his tires smoked as he drove off to a neighbor's house, where he scrawled a note to summon help.

By the time police arrived, the man had escaped, but not before setting fire to the Attwell home.

Mr. Emanuel was arrested after a four-hour manhunt through the woods near the Attwell home. Police said that he had a shotgun stolen from the Attwell residence.

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