Officer is surprise witness in Metheny defense Lawyers seek to make point on technicality

May 13, 1998|By Scott Higham | Scott Higham,SUN STAFF

Defense lawyers for Joseph "Tiny" Metheny called a surprise witness yesterday in an effort to help their client avoid a possible death sentence -- the lead homicide detective who investigated the gruesome killing.

The lawyers are trying to show that the former Baltimore forklift operator does not deserve the death penalty because he did not commit an aggravating crime, such as sexual assault, when he allegedly killed Kimberly Spicer in 1996 when she was 23.

The defense called the detective to try to make a bizarre but important point: that Metheny, 43, preferred to have sex with dead women and necrophilia is not considered a crime in Maryland.

If Baltimore Circuit Judge Clifton J. Gordy finds that Metheny had sex or tried to have sex with Spicer while she was alive, and he is found guilty of first-degree murder, he could face death by lethal injection.

Defense lawyers do not contest the claim that Metheny performed a sex act with Spicer's body after her death. But they deny that he had sex with her while she was alive. Yesterday, they tried to establish that their client has demonstrated an unnatural preference for dead women.

"Did Mr. Metheny discuss his necrophilia acts with you?" defense attorney Catherine Flynn asked Baltimore homicide Detective Homer M. Pennington.

"Yes," Pennington said.

Pennington and Flynn were referring to Metheny's contact with Cathy Ann Magaziner, 39, whom Metheny is also accused of killing. Her decapitated body was found in a shallow grave on the grounds of a Baltimore pallet company where Metheny worked as a forklift operator. Metheny is scheduled to go on trial in that case after the Spicer trial.

Defense attorneys also considered calling Spicer's mother to the stand yesterday as a witness for their case. But Metheny, a burly man covered with tattoos, including tear drops falling from the corners of both eyes, persuaded them not to call her.

"Please, don't do this," Metheny told them.

Spicer's mother, Kathie Price, was not called.

The defense then rested its case. Gordy said he will rule today or tomorrow on whether Metheny is guilty of aggravating crimes such as sexual assault. Closing arguments will follow, and Gordy, who is hearing the case without a jury, will decide whether Metheny is guilty of first-degree murder.

If Gordy finds Metheny guilty with aggravating circumstances, a separate trial will be held to determine whether he should receive a death sentence.

Metheny has claimed that he killed as many as 10 people, including two homeless men he was acquitted of slaying two years ago. After his acquittal, he said that he killed the men so he could steal $300 from one of the victims.

Metheny hung around the bars of Washington Boulevard in Southwest Baltimore, spending his $7-an-hour wages as a forklift operator on liquor, crack and heroin. Prosecutors say Spicer was a prime target: young, pretty and living on the edge of drugs and desperation.

Prosecutors say Metheny was with Spicer on Nov. 11, 1996, and he took her to a trailer, where he was temporarily living, at the pallet company on James Street. Spicer was stabbed 26 times, her body dumped in a field.

Metheny allegedly later told a friend, William Clinton Ashbrook Jr., that he needed help moving a body. Ashbrook testified this month that he thought it was a joke. That was before Metheny al- legedly moved a pile of trash andtires to reveal the decaying body of a young woman.

Ashbrook notified the FBI and the police. Spicer's body was discovered Dec. 15, 1996, beneath a trailer on the pallet company lot.

Pub Date: 5/13/98

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