Retrial starts with call for mistrial Prosecutor in murder trial alludes to domestic abuse in opening statements

September 24, 1997|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Moments into the retrial in a notorious 1994 Annapolis murder, defense lawyers accused the prosecutor of making an improper reference and sought a mistrial yesterday. They failed.

In his opening statements to the Anne Arundel Circuit Court jury, assistant state's attorney Frederick Paone characterized the relationship between defendant Richard E. Janey and the late Susan McAteer as "an abusive relationship."

Nancy Cohen, Janey's lawyer, immediately objected. She told Judge Clayton R. Greene Jr. that the allusion to domestic violence, especially at a time when the issue receives so much public attention, was out of line. And the reference hearkens to the reason the Court of Special Appeals overturned Janey's 1995 conviction.

Maryland's highest court ruled that information about Janey's prior conviction for battery in the beating of McAteer should not have been permitted at trial.

Greene told the jury to disregard the "abusive relationship" remark and said he would not declare a mistrial. Outside the courtroom, defense lawyers said they feared anything that smacked of domestic violence would remind jurors of the O. J. Simpson murder trial and called Paone's remark "irresponsible."

Janey, 34, of the 100 block of Obery Court in Annapolis, is charged with second-degree murder, malicious burning and related charges in the December 1994 death of McAteer, 29, of the first block of Southgate Ave. in Annapolis, whom he had dated.

He is accused of stabbing -McAteer 58 times, dumping her body in woods outside Annapolis and burning the stolen car used in the slaying.

McAteer's body was found Dec. 27, 1994, off Dubois Road, just outside the city.

Paone said that Janey implicated himself in the crime and that the victim's blood was on his "remaining clothes that he wasn't clever enough to burn."

Janey called a police dispatcher four hours after the body was found -- before details of the murder were made public -- to deny involvement and to point the finger at Wanda Hall, 31, of the 1000 block of Bay Ridge Road in Annapolis, according to police testimony in the first trial.

Hall pleaded guilty in January 1996 to accessory after the fact in a second-degree murder, for helping to hide McAteer's body, malicious burning of the car and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. She is serving 14 years in prison.

Defense lawyers are contending that Hall killed McAteer and that Janey merely helped her hide the body.

John Gunning, another defense lawyer, likened Janey to tragic figures in William Shakespeare's plays, such as Hamlet, who got entwined in other people's evil deeds.

"He did find himself in a bad situation and he did act inappropriately, but he did not kill Susan McAteer," Gunning said.

Paone said he does not plan to call Hall to testify. The jury of nine women and three men is expected to hear testimony through the week.

Pub Date: 9/24/97

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