Father is granted new trial in lawsuit Children's $2 million action after mother's slaying lacks key finding, court rules

August 31, 1996|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

A state appeals court granted a new trial yesterday for a father who was ordered to pay his children $2.3 million for killing their mother.

The Court of Special Appeals reversed the Howard County Circuit Court jury that entered the judgment against John Carroll Calhoun in the death of his 43-year-old wife.

Calhoun, 55, a retired supervisor at the National Security Agency, was sentenced to five years in prison in 1993 after he pleaded guilty in Howard County Circuit Court to voluntary manslaughter in the May 13, 1992, death of his wife, Gladys Esther Calhoun.

According to court records, Calhoun kicked a 16-foot aluminum ladder out from under his wife during an argument outside the couple's home in Marriottsville. She struck her head on scaffolding as she fell and died.

The guardian for the children, Laura Calhoun, 15, and Kevin Calhoun, 14, filed a wrongful death suit on their behalf in 1994.

After a three-day trial that ended March 15, 1995, a jury awarded the sum to the children.

But the six-member jury told Howard County Circuit Judge Cornelius F. Sybert that it could not decide whether Calhoun's actions were "atrocious, showed a complete abandonment of the parental relations, were intentional, were willful and were malicious."

The appeals court said yesterday said such a finding is necessary for the Calhoun children to overcome immunity laws that protect parents from suits by their children.

In a 42-page published opinion, the court said that because Calhoun claimed the death was an accident, the nature of his conduct was a critical question in the case.

"In light of the conflicting evidence, the issue was one of fact for the jury to resolve," Judge Ellen Hollander wrote for the three-judge panel.

Emile L. Henault Jr., Calhoun's lawyer, said that his client was released from prison a few weeks ago and that he is looking for NTC work in the Baltimore area.

He said that Calhoun had a good relationship with his children before the suit was filed and that before he went to prison, he placed them in the home of a friend, who is not part of the lawsuit, whom he met through an Ellicott City church.

He said that Calhoun never meant to kill his wife, but kicked the ladder in a moment of frustration and then fled when she hit her head and stopped breathing.

Gary S. Peklo, the children's lawyer, issued a statement yesterday saying that he is confident that he will win the case when it is retried.

Pub Date: 8/31/96

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