Defense mapped in slaying Accused expected to argue that other suspect acted alone

Woman, 74, was strangled

First defendant admitted killing, awaits sanity hearing

April 22, 1996|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

One is a convicted thief who was raised in a comfortable Annapolis waterfront community and went to the finest schools. The other is a country western guitarist from the Eastern Shore who easily charmed people.

Tomorrow, the former thief will try to convince an Anne Arundel County jury that the guitarist acted alone in the strangulation of a 74-year-old retired nurse with a dog leash in her home last year the night before Easter.

James Calvert McGee, a former Key School student who had the financial support of a trust fund from a $1.2 million estate, is to go on trial on first-degree murder charges in the death last April of Katherine Huntt Ryon.

A longtime friend and neighbor found Ms. Ryon's body in her home in the 400 block of Waggamon Circle in Wild Rose Shores April 16, 1995, one day after her death.

Mr. McGee, 41, and Richard Wayne Willoughby Jr., 36, his housemate, were arrested a few days later after they were seen by an acquaintance of Ms. Ryon's with a suitcase filled with her jewelry. They were stopped by police in Ms. Ryon's 1990 Volvo.

Appearing in December before Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr. on a charge of first-degree murder, Willoughby admitted strangling Ms. Ryon but claimed he was not criminally responsible by reason of insanity. He is at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center, awaiting a court hearing in July to determine his sanity.

Mr. McGee's lawyer, J. Michael Wachs, declined to discuss the case last week. But in pretrial hearings, he said he needs Willoughby's psychiatric records to prepare his defense of Mr. McGee.

"I'm saying I don't see how my client should be found responsible for the acts of an insane person," Mr. Wachs told Judge Eugene M. Lerner at one hearing.

Ms. Ryon's neighbors said last week that the trial may rekindle the sorrow caused by the murder.

"It's been really rough," said Reid Buckley, whose husband, Charles Buckley, discovered the body.

Ms. Ryon, who lived alone, often bought vegetables from the neighborhood farmers' market and left them on neighbors' doorsteps. She bought presents for Mrs. Buckley's 2-year-old daughter on holidays and gave tea parties for the neighborhood children, Mrs. Buckley said.

Ms. Ryon was a close friend of Mr. McGee's mother, Sally D. McGee; took in her cats after Mrs. McGee died in July 1993 and sent sweaters to Mr. McGee when he was incarcerated, neighbors said.

Mrs. McGee specified in her will that money for her troubled son from her $1.2 million estate should come out of a trust fund controlled by Annapolis lawyer Frank Walsh.

Mr. Walsh did not return calls last week.

Officials at the Key School in Hillsmere Shores confirmed that Mr. McGee attended in the 1970s, but say he never graduated.

Court records show Mr. McGee has an extensive criminal record.

He was shot by an Annapolis police officer Jan. 9, 1984, when he tried to rob the Fabrikworks craft shop on Maryland Avenue with what turned out to be a toy pistol. He was sentenced to seven years in prison after pleading guilty to that robbery.

He was charged with felony theft in 1992 for allegedly stealing furniture from his mother and trying to sell it at an Annapolis antique store.

Mrs. McGee posted the $25,000 bond, and the charge was dismissed, the records show.

Deputy State's Attorney William D. Roessler said Mr. McGee met Willoughby about four months before the slaying and agreed to rent Willoughby a room in his condominium on Victory Parkway in Annapolis.

Tamara C. Reece, 27, Willoughby's former wife, said her father recruited him to play in a band he organized about 10 years ago.

"He was a charmer," she said. "He could worm his way into anywhere, and you'd never know there was anything wrong with him."

Mrs. Reece, who lives in Great Falls, Mont., said she took their 14-month-old son, Joshua, and left Willoughby in 1991.

Pub Date: 4/22/96

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