Judge bars evidence in manslaughter case against Ellicott City accountant

March 16, 1994|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Sun Staff Writer

A Howard Circuit Court judge is prohibiting county prosecutors from using evidence that police collected from the home of an Ellicott City accountant charged in the chloroform- inhalation death of his girlfriend.

Judge James Dudley issued a ruling last week barring evidence that investigators seized with a search warrant in the case of Melvin Robert Bowers.

Joseph Murtha, senior assistant state's attorney, said he'll decide in a few days whether to ask the state Court of Special Appeals to review the ruling.

The trial for Mr. Bowers is scheduled May 9. If convicted, the 50-year-old certified public accountant could be sentenced to up 15 1/2 years in prison for several charges, including manslaughter.

In his ruling, Judge Dudley faulted the police for conducting what they called a "protective sweep" after Mr. Bowers called 911 to report the death of 20-year-old Geneva Marie Hodge of Baltimore on Sept. 6.

"This activity could not have been a 'protective sweep' because it was not incidental to any arrest," Judge Dudley said in his March 10 order. "This activity constituted a search and seizure."

Judge Dudley said the Howard County police officers who testified at a hearing earlier this month never provided any compelling or urgent reasons for why they conducted the sweep.

The officers testified that they went through each room of Mr. Bowers' house in the 2800 block of Southview Road to search for other victims and suspects. They said the sweep took 13 minutes.

During the search, according to testimony, one officer took notes of what was seen in the house. He noted such details as finding a pair of men's underwear in a bedroom and a brown hair lying on freshly laundered women's clothing.

Investigators obtained a warrant from a Howard District Court judge several hours later to search Mr. Bowers home again and collect any evidence, according to testimony.

Some of the evidence seized with the warrant included Mr. Bowers' business records, sexual aids and a bottle of chloroform.

But Judge Dudley said he believes the initial search, which he called illegal, served as the basis for the warrant, so evidence collected with the warrant must be suppressed.

Deputy Public Defender Louis Willemin, who is representing Mr. Bowers, said he thinks the ruling will help his case. "Exactly to what extent is hard for me to say," he said.

Mr. Murtha declined to comment on the judge's ruling. He said, however, that he expects to go forward with the case.

Although prosecutors may not be able to introduce the evidence at Mr. Bowers' trial, they will be permitted to use statements the defendant gave to police after his arrest.

Mr. Bowers told police that he gave Ms. Hodge chloroform to treat a toothache shortly after the couple engaged in what he described as "rough sex," which involved spanking and handcuffing the woman.

He said the last thing he remembers is falling asleep while holding a rag soaked with chloroform over Ms. Hodge's mouth. Chloroform is a toxic liquid sometimes used in small doses by dentists.

Mr. Bowers reported that he discovered Ms. Hodge was dead when he woke up the next day at 7 a.m. He said he considered burying the woman's body in his back yard after he failed to revive her with cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Mr. Bowers called 911 about 3 p.m., after he said he consulted with a lawyer and went to an Ellicott City supermarket three times to get "drinks."

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