Family of man fatally shot sues suspect and woman's estate

October 15, 1998|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

The family of Kent Leonard Cullison has filed a $20 million lawsuit against suspect Smith Harper Dean III and the estate of Sharon Lee Mechalske, Dean's former girlfriend.

Cullison, 30, and Mechalske, 38, were shotgunned to death at her Hampstead home June 14, 1997. Dean, 39, was arrested in the front yard moments after a 911 dispatcher reported hearing gunshots as Mechalske frantically called for help.

The civil lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Carroll County Circuit Court on behalf of Nancy L. Cullison, the mother and personal representative of her son's estate.

The suit claims that Mechalske had a duty to warn Cullison about Dean before she invited Cullison to her home during the late evening June 13, 1997.

Mechalske knew that Dean was "upset and angry that she was seeing Kent Leonard Cullison" soon after she had broken off a relationship with Dean, the lawsuit contends.

She was aware of Dean's "jealous, controlling and manipulative nature, and his propensity for violence," the suit says.

The Cullisons claim that Mechalske was "under a duty to take reasonable steps to protect those persons whom she invited into her home," and that she breached that duty when she left the door to her home unlocked.

The lawsuit also alleges that Dean carried a 12-gauge shotgun into Mechalske's home and waited for the couple to return, mortally wounding Cullison in the back, and that Cullison experienced "conscious pain and suffering before expiring."

The lawsuit seeks $5 million from Mechalske's estate and $15 million from Dean.

Dean is being held without bail at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Jessup. He was taken there after attempting suicide in June in a cell at Carroll County Detention Center, five days before his double-homicide trial was scheduled to begin in Howard County, where it was moved because of pretrial publicity.

The case was rescheduled for trial Sept. 28, but it was postponed again so Dean's mental status could be evaluated. His lawyers have filed a plea declaring that he was not criminally responsible by reason of insanity.

The trial is now scheduled for April 5.

M. Gordon Tayback, a Baltimore attorney representing Dean on the criminal charges, said his client had not notified him of the lawsuit.

"If he did request my services, I am not sure that I could represent him because I am being paid by the state to represent the criminal matters," Tayback said.

Thomas F. Stansfield, a Westminster attorney representing Mechalske's estate, declined to comment.

Pub Date: 10/15/98

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