Senate panel is asked to limit rights of convicted Killer should not inherit victims' money, kin says

January 29, 1998|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

Patricia Swiger went to Annapolis yesterday to make sure others won't suffer through the same legal nightmare she encountered.

After her brother was convicted of murdering their parents three years ago, Swiger was incredulous to learn of a little-known law requiring her to relive the criminal trial in civil court before her BTC brother's inheritance could be cut off.

Yesterday, Swiger asked the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee to change state law so a criminal conviction would suffice to prevent murderers from inheriting from the people they kill.

"If 12 people found him guilty of first-degree murder, that should be enough to deny him his inheritance," an emotional Swiger told the Senate committee.

The bill was introduced by Sen. F. Vernon Boozer, a Baltimore County Republican, after he learned of Swiger's predicament last year.

Swiger's brother, James G. Finneyfrock, was convicted in March 1995 in Baltimore County Circuit Court of murdering their parents, Wade and Susan Finneyfrock, in their home in Cedar Beach, a rural waterfront community in eastern Baltimore County.

Prosecutors said James Finneyfrock killed his parents for his inheritance and tried to cover up the murder by making it look like a burglary. He is serving a life sentence without parole.

Swiger said yesterday that after the conviction, she hired a criminal lawyer to fight her brother again in civil court to prevent him from getting $140,838 -- his half of their parents' estate.

"It's hard to understand how the courts should be allowed to let my brother continue to victimize me," she said.

"The [legal] expense was escalating, building up to $20,000, not to mention the mental anguish," Swiger told the senators. She said she worried about facing her brother in court and allowing him to question her on the witness stand, because he was representing himself.

Early in the civil case, Baltimore Circuit Judge John F. Fader II erroneously ruled that the criminal conviction was sufficient legal proof to cut off the inheritance. Eight months later, he reversed himself, acknowledging the mistake when he realized the law required a second civil trial.

Yesterday, Fader traveled to Annapolis to urge legislators to change the law.

"This is a no-brainer," Fader told the senators.

"[Swiger] should not have to go through all this. You kill someone, you should not be able to inherit from them. I think it is a horrible, emotional situation a horrible waste of judicial time," he said.

After two years of legal motions, Swiger avoided the second civil trial. Before Christmas last year, James Finneyfrock agreed to give up his fight for the inheritance, settling for $2,000 from his sister.

"He murdered my parents for $2,000," said Swiger yesterday.

Although a new law cutting out the required civil trial would be too late to help Swiger, she said she wants the law changed so no other families will suffer.

With no one testifying against the bill, the Senate committee's chairman, Walter M. Baker, a Cecil County Democrat, indicated the legislation has a good chance of passing.

"As far as I'm concerned, other people won't be put in the position you were in," he told Swiger.

In addition to Swiger's testimony, the committee heard from Towson attorney Dana O. Williams, who urged the senators to amend the bill to include pending cases.

Williams represents the parents of Wayne M. Prior, a Baltimore Fire Department lieutenant, whose wife, Elizabeth D. Prior, was convicted of arranging his murder in their Randallstown home in 1992.

Elizabeth Prior, serving a life sentence plus 20 years, is asking for a civil trial in U.S. District Court to gain $70,000 in life insurance, plus her late husband's pension, said Williams.

Pub Date: 1/29/98

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