Fruitland man, 25, admits killing three on Shore

Alford plea entered before start of murder trial

May 18, 1999|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

On the day his death penalty murder trial was to begin, Eugene E. Winder ignored his lawyers' advice and admitted in court that he killed three people in the Eastern Shore town of Fruitland and set their house on fire in February 1998.

After hearing a statement of facts in the case, Baltimore County Circuit Judge John F. Fader II convicted Winder, 25, a Fruitland electrician, of arson and first-degree murder in the deaths of his estranged girlfriend, Christie Lee Mainor, and her grandparents, John and Geraldine Mainor.

Winder avoided what had been expected to be a weeklong trial by making an Alford plea, admitting to the killings and arson without pleading guilty. The jury is to hear evidence tomorrow in the penalty phase of his case.

Winder could receive a sentence of death, life without parole or life in prison with the possibility of parole for each of the three killings. He also could receive 30 years for arson.

The plea occurred as the trial was about to begin, when one of Winder's lawyers, Thomas J. Saunders, told the judge his client had decided "against advice of counsel" to forgo a trial and agree to a prosecutor's statement of facts.

Saunders noted that Winder had been treated for a "mood disorder" by a mental health professional but was not on medication yesterday.

Later, another defense lawyer, Connie G. Marvel, public defender for the Lower Shore, declined to comment on Winder's reason for canceling his trial.

With the courtroom packed with his relatives and relatives of the victims, Winder sat expressionless as Wicomico County State's Attorney Davis R. Ruark read a lengthy statement of charges that included grisly details of the killings.

On Feb. 18, the night of the deaths, Winder was seen in his red Jeep Cherokee following Christie Lee Mainor, 20, after having an "animated conversation" with her outside the elementary school where she worked as a teacher's assistant, said Ruark.

Early the next morning, a couple driving by the Mainor home noticed smoke and flames.

The burned bodies were found in the home, but autopsies showed the Mainor family died from being stabbed and bludgeoned with an ax, said Ruark.

The prosecutor said evidence in the case would show that blood taken from the driver's side door of Winder's Jeep could possibly be the blood of John Mainor, 71, who the prosecutor said had celebrated Geraldine Mainor's 70th birthday with relatives the night of the slayings.

Winder told police that he went to the home that night and argued with Christie Mainor and her grandparents, the statement said. He said he "blanked out" some details of the slayings, the statement said, but told police he knew he had killed them.

Winder left the home, but returned to set the fire with paper towels and newspapers, according to the statement of facts.

Investigators found batteries outside the home, presumably removed from smoke detectors, which were empty when fire investigators checked them after the blaze.

Ruark also read from a letter of apology Winder wrote to the Mainor family's relatives after his arrest. In it, he said the killings were "a burden I will carry to my grave."

Pub Date: 5/18/99

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