Mechanic convicted 3 times in slaying fails to win new trial

February 08, 1994|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,Sun Staff Writer

A 49-year-old Baltimore auto mechanic convicted three times for the 1987 murder of his pregnant girlfriend was denied a motion for a new trial in Harford Circuit Court yesterday.

Ethel "Dino" Watson sat quietly as Eric P. Macdonnell, his public defender, argued that in the November 1993 third trial, the prosecution was allowed to call its final witness after the defense had presented two character witnesses.

The state's final witness, Dr. John E. Smialek, Maryland's chief medical examiner, had a "factual and emotional impact on the jury" that was unfair to his client, Mr. Macdonnell said.

Judge Cypert O. Whitfill disagreed.

The state asked Dr. Smialek to clear up the ambiguity of a previous witness [Dr. Margarita A. Korell, an assistant medical examiner], but Dr. Smialek was not available until the afternoon, the judge said.

The change in the order of witnesses, agreed to by the defense, was permitted to save time and money and not with any prejudice to the defendant, Judge Whitfill said.

"This was the strongest circumstantial evidence case I have ever dealt with, but 36 jurors have now heard Mr. Watson's version of what happened that day in the motel room and reached the same conclusion," the judge said.

"I do not believe they [the jurors at the third trial] changed their minds [and found him guilty] just because of Dr. Smialek's testimony," he said.

Mr. Macdonnell filed an appeal Nov. 12, seven days after the third trial ended.

The third jury deliberated 90 minutes before returning its verdict, finding Watson guilty of beating and strangling 21-year-old Jeanette Denise "Rose" Hill of Washington.

Dr. Korell said that the cause of death was manual strangulation -- the use of hands to choke a victim. The fetus died of blunt-force blows to Ms. Hill's abdomen.

Watson's first two convictions were overturned by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.

The first conviction and life sentence in 1988 were set aside because the jury had been allowed to hear testimony that the defendant had been convicted of rape eight years before Ms. Hill was found dead in the Pulaski Highway motel.

After Watson's second trial in 1991, the conviction was overturned because hearsay testimony was accepted into evidence.

M. Elizabeth Bowen, who co-prosecuted Watson's third trial, said yesterday that she had called Dr. Smialek to clear up confusion over whether manual strangulation could be self-inflicted.

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