Man convicted of shooting wife 25 times with stun gun Columbia defendant bound her with cord in domestic dispute

February 27, 1997|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

A Columbia man was convicted yesterday of tying up his estranged wife and shooting her with an electronic stun gun 25 times in a crime even his own attorney called "bizarre."

Brian K. Sutherland, 40, did not deny the crime. He told the Howard Circuit Court jurors that, because of prescription drugs he had taken, he did not remember the assault against his wife, Margaret, 42, which apparently began with a dispute over divorce proceedings.

The stun gun, a battery-powered device that emits an electric charge, is used mainly as a self-defense tool to temporarily immobilize people.

Sutherland, who said he had bought the stun gun for his wife to use for self-defense, was convicted of assault, battery, false imprisonment and possession of an illegal electronic weapon.

The charges could bring him up to 20 years in prison at his May 6 sentencing.

The former employee of Allstate Insurance Co. was acquitted of more serious charges -- kidnapping, assault with intent to maim and first-degree burglary -- when the jury reached its decisions -- after a five-hour deliberation.

During the two-day trial, Assistant State's Attorney Mary V. Murphy told the jurors that Sutherland came into his estranged wife's house on Quiet Hours Lane in Columbia's Owen Brown village about 8 p.m. Feb. 24, 1996.

He bound her arms and legs with plastic cords, then zapped her with the stun gun, at one point holding it against her spine and pulling the trigger, said Murphy. The prosecutor showed the jury pictures of the woman's burns. When the woman screamed, the defendant put duct tape over her mouth, Murphy said.

Sutherland's defense focused on his claim that sleeping pills and muscle relaxants he took on that day caused him to lose control. He said he remembers almost nothing about the incident.

"That is not me," testified Sutherland, whose wife left him three months before the attack.

"I was there, but I wasn't there. I don't know what happened," he said, choking up on the witness stand.

Murphy, however, said Sutherland planned the attack -- even mapping out an escape -- and was fully aware of what he was doing.

Murphy told the jurors that after the stun gun assault, Sutherland dragged his wife of seven years upstairs and took the tape off her mouth so the two could discuss issues in their impending divorce.

In closing arguments, Sutherland's attorney, Richard M. Karceski said that the law dealing with assault with intent to maim states that the accused must have sought to permanently injure or disfigure the victim.

"Was [the stun gun] to permanently disfigure [his wife] or was it to get the attention of Margaret Sutherland?" Karceski asked the jurors.

Karceski made a similar argument for acquittal on the kidnapping charge.

"When you heard the word 'kidnapping' did any of you think it [pertained] to moving a person from one room to another?" Karceski asked. "Is that kidnapping her?"

Domestic violence has been rising steadily in the county. Last year, reported incidents rose about 20 percent -- to more than 900 complaints filed, according to police statistics.

Judy Clancy, executive director of Howard County's Domestic Violence Center, said that, along with the rise in domestic violence in the county, there has been an increase in the use of weapons in such disputes.

Of the stun gun used in Sutherland's case, Clancy said it made her think of women being seen as cattle: "It's like treating a human being who you used to live with, who you used to love, like an animal."

"It was a very vicious crime that was committed," Murphy said after the verdict. "I'm not sure in the years I have been here I've seen anything so vicious and almost inhuman."

Pub Date: 2/27/97

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