Jury deadlocks on manslaughter charge in trial on chloroform death

August 25, 1994|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Sun Staff Writer

A Howard County jury convicted an Ellicott City man yesterday of reckless endangerment in the chloroform-inhalation death of his 20-year-old girlfriend in September.

But the jury of seven women and five men deadlocked on a more serious charge of manslaughter and acquitted Bowers of a charge of inhaling harmful substances.

The jury deliberated nearly six hours before reaching its verdict against Melvin Robert Bowers, 51, after a three-day trial in Howard Circuit Court.

Senior Assistant State's Attorney Joseph Murtha said he will meet with his supervisors and the family of Geneva Marie Hodge, the victim, to determine if Bowers will be tried again on the manslaughter charge. Mr. Murtha said decision will be made by Bowers' Oct. 18 sentencing hearing.

Bowers, who did not testify, will remain free on $50,000 bond pending the sentencing hearing.

He could be sentenced to five years in prison for reckless endangerment. Convictions for manslaughter and inhaling harmful substances could have added another 10 1/2 years to his potential sentence.

To convict Bowers of the manslaughter charge, the jury had to find that his actions were so negligent that he caused the death of Ms. Hodge, a Baltimore woman he met two years ago while she worked as a dancer at a show bar on The Block in Baltimore.

Bowers told police after his arrest that the last thing he remembers is inhaling some of the chloroform and then falling asleep as he and Ms. Hodge held the rag over her face in the master bedroom of his home in the 2800 block of Southview Road.

Mr. Murtha told the jury that Bowers gave Ms. Hodge a large amount of chloroform -- a toxic substance once used as an anesthetic -- even though he has no medical training.

"Melvin Robert Bowers . . . was a doctor of death who prescribed a lethal and fatal dosage of chloroform to a 20-year-old woman who knew no better," Mr. Murtha said during his closing statement.

But Deputy Public Defender Louis Willemin countered that Ms. Hodge's death was an accident, caused by a deadly mix of chloroform and alcohol.

"[Bowers] had no reason whatsoever to do anything to endanger her life," Mr. Willemin said in his closing statement. "She was the best thing that was going on in his life."

But Mr. Murtha advised the jury to look at Bowers' actions after he discovered Ms. Hodge's body -- as the defendant described in a statement to police after his arrest -- to determine his guilt.

In the statement, Bowers said he thought about burying Ms. Hodge's body or dumping it into a lake and then fleeing. Mr. Murtha noted that Bowers went so far as to dig a hole in his yard and put Ms. Hodge's body on a tarp.

The prosecutor added that Bowers waited about eight hours before he called for emergency help, after going to a supermarket to get drinks, seeking advice from a minister and consulting a lawyer.

But Mr. Willemin noted that Bowers tried to revive Ms. Hodge by performing CPR for nearly two hours. He added that his client did not seek emergency help sooner because we was embarrassed by his relationship with a younger woman.

Mr. Willemin contended that the prosecution did not have evidence to support the manslaughter charge, noting that the medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Ms. Hodge's body did not classify her death as a homicide.

The pathologist classified the manner of death as "undetermined," thus creating reasonable doubt for the jury to clear Bowers of the manslaughter charge, Mr. Willemin said.

The attorney noted that a pathology consultant hired by the defense testified that Ms. Hodge's death was accidental.

But Mr. Murtha told the jurors that it was up to them -- not a medical examiner -- to determine if Ms. Hodge was a homicide victim by weighing the law and the testimony.

He said the medical examiner, as well as the defense's consultant, testified that Ms. Hodge had enough chloroform in her system to cause her death, even if she had not drunk any alcohol.

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