Police charge son in killings

Authorities say 2 slayings may have followed dispute

Psychological tests ordered

January 08, 1999|By Mike Farabaugh and Sheridan Lyons | Mike Farabaugh and Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

A family confrontation over an adult son's recent sexual behavior might have triggered last week's double homicide in Frizzellburg, authorities speculated in charging documents filed yesterday.

Gary Douglas Starnes, 48, was arrested by state police late Wednesday on double murder charges in the deaths of his mother, Barbara Lorraine Ries, 67, and stepfather, Joseph Sidney Garrity, 68.

At yesterday's bail review hearing in Carroll County District Court, Judge Marc G. Rasinsky ordered a psychological evaluation of Starnes, who was taken after the hearing to Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Jessup, the state's secure facility for those in the criminal justice system with mental health issues.

State police arrested Starnes at Carroll County General Hospital, where he had been a patient in the psychiatric unit since Dec. 29 -- the evening the couple's bodies were found in separate bathrooms at their home in the 1400 block of Warehime Road.

Starnes had periodically lived with the couple, according to neighbors and the police. The couple was last known to be alive about noon Dec. 28.

Their bodies were discovered late Dec. 29, after police received at least two calls asking officers to check on the couple's welfare, according to the statement of charges by a trooper from the Special Investigation Support Unit based in Columbia.

Police said interviews with relatives indicated "a confrontation of sorts between [Ries] and Starnes," reportedly because Starnes had "inappropriately touched a family member (in a suggestively sexual way) during the Christmas holidays."

A relative who spoke by telephone with Ries the morning of Dec. 28 told police that Ries said her son "had been acting strangely of late, and that he had been sexually demonstrative in front of her."

Ries told the relative she was going to confront Starnes about his behavior, and police believe such a confrontation might have "triggered a violent response from Starnes," the statement of charges said.

At yesterday's hearing, District Public Defender Carol Hanson said, "I am not asking for a competency evaluation. I am asking that he be held at Clifton T. Perkins."

Rasinsky agreed that Starnes should be held at Perkins, and he ordered that Hanson should be notified before the competency evaluation of her client was to be conducted.

Starnes, his face pale and pock-marked, looked blankly around the courtroom. He said nothing in court and was driven rather than walked to Carroll County Detention Center, a half-block from the courthouse.

Sheriff Kenneth L. Tregoning said Starnes had been on a suicide watch at the jail since he was arrested and would be transported immediately to Perkins.

Suspect faces 3 charges

Starnes was charged with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of wearing or carrying a dangerous and deadly weapon with the intent to injure Garrity and Ries, who used her own last name.

Deputy State's Attorney Tracy A. Gilmore said no decision has been made on whether the state will seek the death penalty in the case, which could be eligible for capital punishment because two people were killed.

Gilmore would not say whether a weapon had been recovered, but The Sun has learned that state police recovered an odd-shaped instrument that they believe was used to kill Garrity and Ries.

The state medical examiner's office ruled last week that Garrity and Ries had died by homicide from blunt-force trauma to their heads and upper torsos.

Police described the couple's injuries as being caused by an "ax, hatchet, hammer or similar weapon."

In court documents, investigators reported finding that someone had scrubbed clean the crime scene -- a bedroom, a hallway and two bathrooms in the brick rancher in the small Pleasant Dale subdivision. Clean sheets had been placed on a blood-stained mattress, and carpet and tile floors had been washed.

Little evidence is physical

Court documents note largely circumstantial evidence by which state police investigators and prosecutors decided to charge Starnes, including:

No sign of forced entry and no apparent missing items suggest robbery was not a motive, and Garrity, a retired Baltimore City police officer, was unlikely to let a stranger enter his home.

The killer would have needed a key to reset dead-bolt locks.

Starnes told his stepsister about 7: 30 p.m. Dec. 28 that Garrity and Ries were sleeping, but evidence suggests the couple died in the morning or early afternoon that day.

A neighbor reported seeing a pickup truck with only one functioning low-beam headlight leave the Garrity driveway. A state trooper stopped a pickup driven by Starnes about an hour later on Route 140 because the truck had an inoperative low-beam headlight.

Starnes showed no signs of surprise when told at the hospital Dec. 30 that his parents had "passed away," according to the charges. He asked no questions about how they died and requested a lawyer before discussing their deaths.

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