Judge refuses to withdraw from murder trial

Defendant in 2 killings said he feared bias

February 14, 1999|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Carroll County Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. refused to remove himself or a county prosecutor from trying double-murder charges against Smith Harper Dean III, after Dean raised a bias claim based upon Beck's kind comments in an obituary for the prosecutor's father.

Defense attorneys M. Gordon Tayback and Richard S. Bernhardt said Dean was concerned about a 1998 article in which Beck praised the late Judge Donald J. Gilmore and his children -- including Carroll Deputy State's Attorney Tracy A. Gilmore.

"This motion was filed at Mr. Dean's express request," Bernhardt told Beck.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Dean, 39, of Hampstead. He is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the June 1997 killings of Sharon Lee Mechalske, 38, and Kent Leonard Cullison, 30, an Arcadia mail carrier, at Mechalske's home in Hampstead.

Members of Mechalske's family said at the time that she had broken up with Dean after the two had dated because he was possessive and jealous.

The defense attorneys have questioned Dean's fitness to stand trial and said yesterday they have filed notice of their claim that he was not criminally responsible by reason of insanity.

Beck will try the case in Howard County, where it is scheduled for April 5. It was delayed after Dean attempted suicide in June, five days before his trial was to begin, with pills he had hoarded at the Carroll County Detention Center. He has been held since then at the state's Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center.

In court yesterday, Dean said nothing -- just sitting with his head down and shoulders slumped forward, rocking back and forth in his chair throughout the hearing.

Death penalty proceedings require extraordinary care, Bernhardt said in arguing for Beck and the prosecutor to withdraw, citing appeals, court rulings and the state's rules of ethics. Dean's concern that the judge might favor Gilmore could keep Dean from a free choice between having the judge or a jury decide his fate at either the trial or the sentencing phase, Bernhardt said.

Carroll County State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes argued briefly that the evidence did not show any indication of partiality by the judge, as outlined in the law and the rules.

In denying the motion, Beck observed, "It's hard in a small community to have people come before you who you don't know. You frequently see the same people. Some I've known as students in law school, and some even longer.

"Mr. Tayback's father was a dear friend of mine, when he was the first state secretary on aging," the judge noted.

Pub Date: 2/14/99

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