Halethorpe man convicted of murdering 2 Carroll men $225 drug debt blamed in killings

April 27, 1996|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

A Halethorpe man, accused of killing two Carroll County men over a $225 drug debt and burying them in his basement in 1994, was convicted on two counts of murder in Carroll County Circuit Court yesterday.

Matt Green, 25, showed no emotion as the jury foreman announced the verdicts after nearly 10 hours of deliberation, ending a trial that began April 15.

Baltimore County Circuit Judge James T. Smith, who had shifted the case to Westminster because of defense concerns over pretrial publicity, ordered Green transferred to the Baltimore County Detention Center to await sentencing in Towson May 7.

Green, who also was convicted on charges of kidnapping and the use of a handgun to commit murder, told Judge Smith in a firm voice that he wanted the judge -- not the jury -- to decide his sentence: life in prison, life in prison without parole, or death.

In testimony Monday, Ann M. Dixon, a deputy chief medical examiner, said the victims, Esteban "Steve" Santana and Kurt J. Benkert, of Deer Park Road near Liberty Reservoir, had been shot, stabbed and beaten. She said Mr. Santana died from stab wounds and Mr. Benkert died from 35 blunt-force injuries to his head.

Yesterday, prosecutors Timothy Gunning and Frank Meyer would not say if they are confident of persuading Judge Smith to impose a death sentence.

"We're pleased with the jury's verdict," Mr. Gunning said. "We believed all along we had a strong case and felt the jury was extremely qualified and was very attentive and very diligent throughout the trial."

Richard Karceski, Green's attorney, declined to comment.

In Thursday's closing arguments, Mr. Karceski repeatedly stressed that it made no sense that his client would plan to kill two men for such a small amount of money and carry out the deed at his own house, much less bury the bodies in his own basement.

Mr. Karceski tried to persuade the jury that his client acted in self-defense in a violent fit of rage, arguing that Green was guilty only of manslaughter.

In rebuttal, the prosecutors said the two men would not have taken a 9-month-old baby along to collect money from Green if they had planned to harm Green if he refused to pay.

According to police and court records, officers began searching for the missing men after finding Mr. Santana's daughter strapped in a child safety seat alone in a pickup truck parked in the McKeldin area of Patapsco State Park about 1 p.m. Dec. 15, 1994.

According to court records, Green told police that he had taken the girl there so she could be found, then returned home to bury the bodies.

Pub Date: 4/27/96

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