Spicer case opens old wounds

Beating victim coping as convicted attacker faces freedom, retrial

January 24, 1999|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

It's been nine years of recuperating from the beating that nearly took his life.

Nine years of trying to adjust to a life suddenly changed, of trying to dwell less on what happened and more on the future he almost didn't have.

And now, as Francis "Bones" Denvir has moved on, taking pride in his son at college and helping his aging parents, it's all coming back -- the blows that smashed every bone in his face, the fears for his family's safety, the relief in knowing his attacker would endure 30 years in prison.

U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte ruled Dec. 29 that Brady Spicer, the Annapolis man convicted in the assault, didn't get a fair trial.

The judge gave prosecutors 30 days, which expires Thursday, to appeal and 120 days to retry or free him.

"We hadn't thought about it much, until of late. Now we think about it a great deal," Denvir, 53, said last week, looking into a beer at the Annapolis restaurant of which he was once part-owner -- and in which he was beaten.

"You have to put those things behind you or it's a cancer that will eat at you, kill you," he said.

Maybe there will be a second trial.

Maybe Spicer, 42, will walk free.

Maybe there will be another appeal.

"We certainly don't want somebody in jail who is innocent," said Denvir, a thin, soft-spoken man.

"In this case, I truly think we have the guilty party, based on the trial, the evidence, all the legal appeals,' he said. "How could we be told so many people could be wrong to be told by a distant someone that you are wrong?"

But Spicer has steadfastly maintained his innocence.

"I did not do it," he said last week in a telephone interview from the county detention center.

Denvir wonders if Annapolis police dropped the ball during their initial investigation, as former prosecutor Steven M. Sindler has claimed, but said he harbors no animosity toward them.

Police have said that Denvir grew uncooperative as their leads shriveled, but Denvir says that is not so. The police were getting nowhere, and he needed to deal with his own problems and get on with his life, he said. He could not continue to focus on the beating and the investigation.

The wrong man?

More than a year after the attack, Larry Michael Brown, a felon who would have been facing 20 years in prison if convicted on his third drug offense, told his lawyer Spicer said incriminating things to him before and after Denvir's beating. Later, though, Brown told Sindler he was shucking oysters when he saw Spicer running from the scene. But no one told Spicer's lawyer about the changing story, and Spicer was convicted.

The Court of Special Appeals upheld the conviction. But Annapolis police were so convinced that Spicer, who did have a record for drug and property crimes, was the wrong man, they went to bat for him at a post-trial hearing in 1995.

Judge Messitte, who took the case when Spicer appealed to federal court, ruled that Spicer's lawyer should have been told about Brown's changing stories. In overturning the case, the judge also found fault with two other eyewitnesses' identifications (they said the suspect was a fast runner, but Spicer, who had once had a broken kneecap was not) and with Spicer's lawyer for not trying to block certain testimony. Messitte was troubled that Spicer was at least a head taller and 70 pounds heavier than the attacker one witness described.

Denvir said he was writing checks in his small office on the second floor of the City Dock restaurant around lunchtime Feb. 22, 1990. There was cash under a napkin on the desk. He never heard anyone come upstairs.

"I had a headset on, listening to prospective [music] groups that wanted to play here," he said. He remembers a bottle bashing his head, then nothing, and then medical tubes down his throat.

A `fortunate' man

There was a turning point, he remembers, when doctors gathered around his intensive care unit bed said he'd live, but they'd need to rebuild much of his face. His wife, Susan, cracked her first real joke in weeks: "I want you to remember he looked just like Mel Gibson," she told physicians.

"I have a lot of bionic parts in me," Denvir said, what with several operations and more than 200 stitches.

But he has no sinuses, and so blows a drippy nose often. He puts drops in his eyes for glaucoma that resulted from the attack, and he has lost some vision. The nerves associated with taste and smell were severed. Bone chips in his ear have given him bouts of vertigo.

The attack figured into the sale of his interest in Armadillo's at Annapolis's City Dock five years ago. He now works at a Baltimore restaurant.

Yet he said he considers himself "as fortunate a man as there is" -- because he is here to say so, because his strong family endured the trauma, and because friends, neighbors and employees did for him and his loved ones when they could not do for themselves.

"I am one of the few guys in the world who got to see his funeral before he died," Denvir said.

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