Woman given life in prison for fatal frying pan beating

March 08, 1994|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Sun Staff Writer

A gray-haired great-grandmother was sentenced to life in prison yesterday for using a frying pan, two lamps and a can of beans to beat an elderly North Baltimore man to death.

"I will never forget you," Judge John N. Prevas told the great-grandmother yesterday in Baltimore Circuit Court. "After all the thousands of cases I've heard, this one stands out. I wish I knew what secrets are locked in your mind."

Catherine L. Means, 59, offered no explanations for the beating that killed Harry Smith, whose body was found June 9, 1992, in his apartment in the 2500 block of Violet Ave. The 68-year-old victim, who had one glass eye and was nearly blind in the other, had sustained more than 60 blows.

The frying pan apparently broke in half during the attack. Mr. Smith was stabbed in the back with a jagged portion of the pan that remained attached to the handle. Means' bloody fingerprints were found on the lamps that were also used to beat Mr. Smith, prosecutor Emmanuel Brown said.

Mr. Brown said he remains uncertain of the motive behind the killing, but he noted that no money was found in the dresser drawer where Mr. Smith kept his cash. He said Means and Mr. Smith lived in the same apartment building.

In January a jury found Means guilty of first-degree murder and a weapons charge.

The prosecutor, Means' lawyer, the judge and the victim's relatives agreed yesterday that they may never know the real story behind Mr. Smith's murder.

"There's no sense to be made behind it," said Mr. Smith's only daughter, Belinda Jackson. "At least we know the woman who was convicted is in jail."

Means cried as she was led handcuffed from the courtroom.

Defense lawyer Michael E. Kaminkow said he has known Means for 20 years, back to when she briefly worked for him as a housekeeper. He said she has consistently denied being involved in the murder.

Judge Prevas said the woman's criminal record does not paint her as a killer. She was sentenced to 60 days in jail in 1960 for assault and was fined for her role in a numbers operation in 1976 and 1980.

"I still do not know whether you were helping some other vicious person who did this or whether you did this yourself," Judge Prevas said.

He said that if Means later comes forward to clear up the mystery surrounding Mr. Smith's death, he will consider modifying her sentence.

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