Testimony that man admitted killing is expected One of three charged in 1978 slaying is on trial

October 30, 1997|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

The key prosecution witness in a long-unsolved Baltimore County murder case is expected to testify today against William R. Issacs, the first of three men charged with murdering Mark Schwandtner, whose bloody body was found floating in the Gunpowder Falls in June 1978.

The prosecutors have said that they expect Charles Wilhelm, whom they described as a "punk" and a paid FBI informant, to tell the jury that Issacs admitted on June 10, 1978, the day after the slaying, that he had killed Schwandtner.

In opening statements Tuesday, prosecutor James O'C. Gentry Jr. told the jury the killing was "long since forgotten," until two years ago, when Wilhelm told the FBI that William R. Issacs and two other men had told him they killed Schwandtner.

Gentry urged the jury to believe Wilhelm's testimony, even though Wilhelm "was a bad guy" who was in the loan shark business with Issacs for many years until he decided "he was tired of running and wanted to make a clean slate."

The two others charged in Schwandtner's death, John S. Derry and Ronald G. Rogers Sr., will be tried later.

Issacs is serving 2 1/2 years in federal prison on an extortion charge.

The prosecution has said that it will rely heavily on Wilhelm's testimony and circumstantial evidence in the trial, which it expects to last a week.

There will be no murder weapon, fingerprints or other direct evidence in the slaying.

Schwandtner, who was 22 at the time of his death, was found by fishermen who called police the morning of June 10, 1978. A police officer followed a trail of blood to a railroad bridge in White Marsh and saw the body below. Schwandtner had been severely beaten on the head with a baseball bat and had drowned, Gentry said.

The prosecutor said Issacs, 44, told Wilhelm and others to keep quiet about the slaying and that he said, "If nobody talks, everybody walks."

In his opening statement Tuesday, defense lawyer Donald Daneman, called Wilhelm a "liar."

Wilhelm is a drug addict who has been accused of beating his wife and was paid $2,500 a month as an FBI informant, Daneman said. He also suggested that Wilhelm received immunity from prosecution on charges that he burned cars.

"How credible is a junkie?" Daneman said.

Daneman also told the jury that Wilhelm is "slick" and said, "You will think he's the best aluminum siding salesman in Maryland."

Pub Date: 10/30/97

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