Jury convicts man in murder Annapolis resident took part in robbery at victim's home

April 30, 1996|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

An Anne Arundel Circuit Court jury last night convicted a 42-year-old Annapolis man of felony murder for ignoring an elderly woman's pleas to save her as she was being strangled and for helping to ransack her house as she lay dead.

James Calvert McGee, of the 200 block of Victor Parkway, stood without expression as the verdict was announced yesterday after a week-long jury trial before Judge Eugene M. Lerner.

The neighbor who discovered Katherine Huntt Ryon's body after she was slain in her Edgewater home on April 15, 1995, said the verdict was a "major relief."

"It was always our biggest nightmare that he wouldn't be convicted of murder. I'm just glad," said Raymond Bowen, who lives in the waterfront community in which the killing occurred and has taken in the victim's dogs.

McGee also was found guilty of robbery, conspiracy to commit robbery and two counts of theft. He could be given life without parole when he is sentenced by Judge Lerner July 18.

The jury of six men and six women heard four days of testimony and deliberated six hours before deciding that McGee was guilty of murder because he participated in the robbery that followed Ms. Ryon's murder.

Ms. Ryon, 74, was hit in the head and strangled as she sat in a dining room chair in her home in the 400 block of Waggaman Circle, near Annapolis, talking with McGee, according to testimony.

McGee, who grew up in the neighborhood, had known the retired nurse since childhood and arrived at her house about 5 p.m. with Richard Wayne Willoughby Jr., 36, in search of cash for drugs, according to prosecutors.

When Ms. Ryon told McGee that she had no money for him, Willoughby smashed her head with a vase and strangled her, using both his hands and a dog leash, according to testimony.

The two men were arrested after police responded to a call for a fight several hours later at Robinwood, an Annapolis housing project, and found them in Ms. Ryon's 1990 Volvo.

Willoughby pleaded guilty to murder Dec. 11, 1995, but has entered an insanity plea in the case.

A hearing on his insanity plea is tentatively scheduled for sometime in July.

McGee's lawyer, J. Michael Wachs, admitted to jurors that his client was at the house at the time of the murder, but said Willoughby lost control and acted alone when he killed Ms. Ryon.

"Presence at the scene of a crime is not a crime," Mr. Wachs said in closing arguments.

He emphasized that Willoughby had a history of mental illness, told his girlfriend he sometimes heard voices and was not taking his medication at the time of the slaying, carrying unfilled prescription bottles in his pocket.

McGee also had borrowed money from Ms. Ryon before and after the slaying, he felt threatened by his roommate and friend, Mr. Wachs said.

"He was paralyzed with fear," Mr. Wachs said.

It made no sense for McGee to plan the slaying and then walk from the apartment they shared to Ms. Ryon's house in broad daylight, he said.

But deputy state's attorney William D. Roessler emphasized that it took a long time -- between 30 seconds and two minutes according to medical testimony -- for Ms. Ryon to die. He said the evidence showed McGee to be the scheme's chief architect and not just a reluctant thief.

That evidence included McGee's drinking a beer as the two men ransacked Ms. Ryon's house, his showing Willoughby where she kept her valuables, his unscrewing an outdoor light bulb to avoid detection as they left and his driving her car on a trip to buy drugs, Mr. Roessler said.

"Actions are louder than words," he said.

Pub Date: 4/30/96

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