Man to be retried on charge in girlfriend's death

October 09, 1994|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Sun Staff Writer

Howard County prosecutors will retry an Ellicott City accountant on manslaughter charges in the chloroform-inhalation death of his 20-year-old girlfriend in September 1993.

Melvin Robert Bowers, 51, was convicted of reckless endangerment at his Circuit Court trial in August, but a jury could not reach a verdict on the more serious manslaughter count.

Bowers is accused of giving Geneva Marie Hodge of Baltimore a lethal dosage of chloroform, a toxic substance once used as an anesthetic, to treat a toothache at his home in the 2800 block of Southview Road on Sept. 5, 1993.

"The state always intended to prosecute him on the rTC manslaughter charge and he still faces it," said Senior Assistant State's Attorney Joseph Murtha, who is handling the case.

But Deputy Public Defender Louis Willemin questioned why the state's attorney's office wants to retry Bowers. He said his client will be sufficiently punished for the incident because of his reckless endangerment conviction.

Bowers could be sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison for the reckless endangerment conviction. If convicted of manslaughter, he could be sentenced to an additional 10 years.

"I don't see the point in trying him again," Mr. Willemin said. "It seems not to be a good use of scarce judicial resources."

Mr. Murtha said he consulted with his supervisors and Ms. Hodge's family before deciding to retry Bowers. The victim's relatives support the decision to pursue the case, he said.

The prosecutor said the jury foreman in Bowers' first trial told him that the jurors were deadlocked 7-5 in favor of a manslaughter conviction.

No date has been set for the second trial, but Mr. Murtha said he expects the trial to begin in November. The new trial means that Bowers' sentencing hearing Oct. 18 for the reckless endangerment conviction will be postponed.

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

Describing Bowers as a "doctor of death," Mr. Murtha contended during his closing statement in the last trial that Bowers gave Ms. Hodge a large amount of chloroform even though he has no medical training.

Bowers told police after his arrest that the last thing he remembered was 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.

Mr. Willemin contended that Ms. Hodge's death was an accident, caused by a deadly mix of chloroform and alcohol.

He argued 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.

Bowers remains free on $50,000 bond pending the new trial.

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