Murder conviction could be reversed

Defense lawyers found note from jury to judge indicating deadlock

April 16, 1999|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

A jury note that apparently was never read to the defendant in a 1997 Baltimore County trial could jeopardize the defendant's conviction for a murder that went unsolved for 19 years.

William R. Isaacs, 46, of Baltimore was convicted of second-degree murder in the 1978 fatal beating of 22-year-old Mark Schwandtner, whose body was found in Big Gunpowder River beneath a railroad trestle near the Harford County line.

On Tuesday, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld Isaacs' October 1997 conviction. But the court sent the case back to Baltimore County Circuit Judge Christian M. Kahl to determine if a brief note written by the jury and answered by the judge "took place out of the presence of the defendant" and his lawyers.

If so, "reversal of the conviction is mandated unless the court determines that the error was harmless," the court wrote.

The note, found in the court file by defense lawyers after the trial, said: "We are at a deadlock so therefore cannot render a decision. Therefore, what do you want us to do?"

Below the note is an answer, signed by the judge, that says: "Do you believe your inability to agree is permanent and hopeless?"

The court record does not show whether the jury answered the judge's question, but it does indicate the judge told lawyers in the case that the jurors informed the judge's secretary they were having difficulty reaching a verdict.

The jury convicted Isaacs.

He is serving a 30-year prison sentence.

The case against Isaacs was unusual, not only for the length of time the murder remained unsolved, but for the lack of physical evidence.

Isaacs was convicted without fingerprints, blood or a weapon linking him to the murder of the Towson man.

The jury based its verdict solely on the testimony of an FBI informant, Charles Wilhelm, who said Isaacs had told him that he and two men killed Schwandtner on June 10, 1978, after meeting him at a Parkville bar.

The two other men charged in the killing, John S. Derry of Baltimore and Ronnie G. Rodgers of Georgia, have not been tried.

Pub Date: 4/16/99

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