Accountant's statements admissible at trial in girlfriend's chloroform death

March 08, 1994|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Sun Staff Writer

County prosecutors will be permitted to use at trial the statements an Ellicott City accountant gave to police describing the night of his girlfriend's chloroform-inhalation death, according to a ruling issued by a Howard Circuit Court judge yesterday.

Judge James Dudley's decision came after a hearing in which Melvin Robert Bowers testified that investigators badgered him into making a statement after his arrest in the Sept. 6 death of 20-year-old Geneva Marie Hodge of Baltimore.

The judge denied a request from Mr. Bowers' attorney to suppress the statements. Deputy Public Defender Louis Willemin argued that his client did not give police the statements voluntarily.

"The bottom line is that [Mr. Bowers] freely, voluntarily and intelligently . . . gave a lengthy statement to police," Judge Dudley said. "He repeatedly responded to questions."

Mr. Bowers, a 50-year-old certified public accountant who described himself as a self-employed financier, is charged with manslaughter, reckless endangerment and inhaling harmful substances.

An autopsy revealed that Ms. Hodge died from inhaling chloroform, a toxic liquid sometimes used in small doses by dentists. The autopsy also showed that Ms. Hodge had been drinking the night she died.

A trial date for Mr. Bowers has not been scheduled. He could be sentenced to 15 1/2 years in prison if convicted.

During a 90-minute tape-recorded interview, Mr. Bowers told investigators that he held a rag doused with chloroform over Ms. Hodge's mouth after she woke in the middle of the night complaining of a toothache.

He said Ms. Hodge enjoyed having what he called "rough sex," including being handcuffed and spanked, so he agreed to perform such acts with her on the night of her death.

The encounter occurred several hours before Ms. Hodge complained about the toothache, he told police.

Mr. Bowers also told police that he thought about burying Ms. Hodge's body when he found her dead at 7 a.m. the next day. He said he attempted to revive Ms. Hodge by performing CPR for at least two hours. He did not call 911 until about 3 p.m., records say.

At yesterday's hearing, Mr. Bowers testified that he told police when they arrived at his home in the 2800 block of Southview Road that an attorney had advised him against making any statements about Ms. Hodge's death.

Mr. Bowers, who has several college degrees, said he signed a form that outlined his rights to have an attorney with him if he chose to make any statements to investigators.

Once at the police department, Mr. Bowers testified, he was taken to a small room where he was guarded by an officer while his right hand was cuffed to a pole. He said he was kept in the room for about six hours. On cross-examination, Mr. Bowers said he was given food, sodas and allowed to take walks in the hallway of the department.

Mr. Bowers said one of the officers, Officer William Vogel, later asked him if any of the investigators had yet given him a chance to tell his side of the story about Ms. Hodge's death.

Mr. Bowers said he then called a private attorney, who told him it would all right to make a statement to the investigators as long as he avoided an interrogation. The officers again went through Mr. Bowers' rights against making any statements, both police and Mr. Bowers have said.

"I gave a statement and they started asking questions," Mr. Bowers said.

"And you answered them," asked his attorney, Mr. Willemin. "Yes," Mr. Bowers responded.

Mr. Bowers said he decided to end the interview when Officer Vogel accused him of lying. He contended that the officer was trying to "pistol-whip a confession out of me."

Mr. Willemin argued that the statements should be withheld because they were given after Mr. Bowers told police that an attorney advised him against making any comments.

He added police initiated the interview by asking him to tell his story.

But Assistant State's Attorney Joseph Murtha, who is prosecuting the case, argued that Mr. Bowers chose to make the statements. "The defendant is an intelligent man," Mr. Murtha said. "He waived his rights. He wanted to cooperate with the police."

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