4-month jail sentence in chloroform death brings protests from victims' rights groups Howard County judge imposes minimum term

January 31, 1996|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,SUN STAFF

Victims' rights groups sharply criticized the 120-day jail term given yesterday by a Howard County judge to a 52-year-old accountant in the 1993 chloroform death of his 20-year-old girlfriend.

Melvin Robert Bowers, formerly of Ellicott City, could have received 10 years in prison for his Nov. 8 involuntary manslaughter conviction in the death of Geneva Marie Hodge of Baltimore. She died after Bowers put a chloroform-soaked rag over her nose and mouth and fell asleep, leaving the rag in place.

But Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr. imposed the minimum four-month term -- minus 25 days Bowers already had served -- and did not require probation. The judge allowed him to remain free on $50,000 bond to complete business arrangements, ordering him to report to jail Feb. 7.

"Four months is an awfully short sentence for killing someone when you're giving them a dangerous substance," said Dorothy Lenning, director of the domestic legal violence clinic at the House of Ruth.

By contrast, Judge Kane earlier yesterday ordered a 19-year-old Lochearn man to spend seven years in prison for a shooting in March in Columbia's Hickory Ridge village that wounded a teen-age rival in a dispute over a girl.

Renee Dudnikov, a longtime volunteer at Compassionate Friends of Maryland, said the Bowers sentence sends a sad message to the victim's family.

"It's saying that their daughter was worth nothing," said Ms. Dudnikov, whose organization is a support group for grieving parents.

Audrey Jenkins, the victim's mother, was stunned by the sentence.

"It seems that a drug dealer gets more time than a person who takes someone's life," she said.

According to testimony at Bowers' trial in November, he gave Ms. Hodge chloroform to treat a toothache Sept. 6, 1993.

The defense contended that Ms. Hodge's death was an accident, but he was convicted after 2 1/2 hours of deliberation by a jury in his second trial in the incident. The first trial ended in August 1994 when a jury convicted him of reckless endangerment but could not reach a verdict on manslaughter.

Ms. Hodge died from a deadly mix of alcohol and chloroform after she and Bowers spent a night of drinking and sex at his former home in the 2800 block of Southview Road in Ellicott City.

The reckless endangerment conviction was merged with the involuntary manslaughter conviction in the second trial.

Howard State's Attorney Marna McLendon, who prosecuted the case, said evidence showed that Bowers waited nine hours before reporting the death to police. In the interim, he did laundry, went to a supermarket three times and consulted two ministers and a lawyer, the prosecutor said.

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