Jury hears defendant's account on police tape

August 24, 1994|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Sun Staff Writer

A Howard County jury listened yesterday to a taped police interrogation in which an Ellicott City accountant described how he gave his 20-year-old girlfriend chloroform to treat a toothache one night last September and found her dead the next morning.

The tape of the 90-minute interview was played by the prosecution in the Howard Circuit Court trial of 51-year-old Melvin Robert Bowers, who is charged with manslaughter for the Sept. 6 death of Geneva Marie Hodge of Baltimore.

To convict Mr. Bowers, the jury of seven women and five men must find that his actions were so negligent that he caused the death of Ms. Hodge. Testimony in Mr. Bowers' trial continues today before Judge Cornelius Sybert Jr.

The jurors showed little emotion as the tape was played, although Mr. Bowers and relatives of Ms. Hodge fought back tears.

During the interview with the investigators, Mr. Bowers said Ms. Hodge woke him up in the middle of the night because of a toothache. He said he then gave her a rag doused with chloroform to help ease her pain.

Mr. Bowers said the last thing he remembers is inhaling some of the chloroform and then falling asleep as he held the rag over Ms. Hodge's face. The rag was still partially on her face when he woke up the next morning, but her body was cold.

"I tried to feel a pulse, but I couldn't find one," Mr. Bowers said. "I tried to hear her heartbeat. . . . I couldn't tell you how scared I was."

Mr. Bowers said he then performed CPR on Ms. Hodge for nearly two hours but failed to revive her. He did not call for emergency help until about 3 p.m., about eight hours after discovering the body.

The defendant told police he went to a supermarket three times, called a pastor for advice and then consulted a lawyer. He said he also considered burying Ms. Hodge's body and then fleeing.

Mr. Bowers reported that the night of Ms. Hodge's death was the first time they had been together in about five months.

He said Ms. Hodge had just broken off a relationship with a live-in boyfriend.

After getting food from a restaurant, Mr. Bowers said, he and Ms. Hodge went to his house in the 2800 block of Southview Road about 11 p.m.

They talked for some time and then went to the bedroom, where they had sex, Mr. Bowers said. He added that they had a number of alcoholic drinks.

In other testimony yesterday, Ms. Hodge's mother, Audrey Jenkins of Baltimore, testified that her daughter had drunk alcoholic drinks at a family cook-out that ended at about 7 p.m. on the night of her death.

And an assistant medical examiner and a toxicologist with the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner testified that tests showed Ms. Hodge had a lethal dosage of chloroform in her system that was worsened by alcohol.

Dr. James Locke, who performed the autopsy on Ms. Hodge's body, testified that Ms. Hodge's system had 20 milligrams per liter of chloroform. He said that level would be safe if administered in a hospital, where a patient's blood pressure, heart rate and breathing would be monitored.

"Here, you're in a situation where none of that is being monitored," Dr. Locke said, noting that chloroform was once a common anesthetic. "A therapeutic level could be toxic if it is not monitored."

Dr. Locke testified that Ms. Hodge's blood-alcohol content of .17 also contributed to her death, explaining that alcohol and chloroform are both depressants that enhance each other's effects.

Under state law, a person with a blood-alcohol content of .10 could be arrested for driving while intoxicated.

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