Divided by courtroom aisle, family endures murder trial

Dicus accused in death of wife

son, in-laws watch

November 11, 1999|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

A few candles were to top a cake last night at the home of Muriel and Donald Keefer to mark a birthday that is not taking place. Their daughter, Terry Keefer, would have been 42.

They spent the day as they have spent most weekdays this month, in the Anne Arundel County Circuit courtroom of Judge Ronald A. Silkworth at the trial of the man charged with first-degree murder in the death of their daughter in July 1995. The accused is their son-in-law, David A. Dicus, 41.

On the other side of the courtroom sits their grandson, Lucas Dicus, a 15-year-old whose future hangs on the outcome of his father's murder trial. On nearby benches are friends, his paternal grandfather and an occasional Dicus relative. Several members of his father's family have been subpoenaed as witnesses and have not been allowed to attend the hearing.

"I've lost Terry. I've lost David. And I've lost our grandson," said Muriel Keefer.

He lived with his grandparents after his father's arrest last year, leaving last summer after a police search of his room yielded letters from his father, including one, prosecutors say, in which Dicus suggests that his son tamper with pivotal witness, Catherine McNicholas. Lucas testified that his father told him soon after that not to call McNicholas, who had been Dicus' girlfriend at the time of his wife's death and whose believability is crucial to a verdict.

Muriel Keefer said she and her husband respect Lucas' feelings and do not discuss the case with him.

Lucas, who remains close to his father, disputes the prosecution's case. Assistant State's attorney Frank Ragione said Dicus strangled his wife in the bedroom of their Glen Burnie home, had his girlfriend help dump the body near Scaggsville and abandoned Keefer's car on Interstate 97, staging a flat tire and later thoroughly cleaning the car. Keefer's body was found 41 days after she disappeared.

"Every way they look at it, they see it the same way. Every way I've looked at it, I've seen it the same way, and it's a different way. I don't see how my dad could have done that," Lucas said.

The defense has focused on discrediting McNicholas, who, faced with possibly being charged as an accessory to murder, changed her account last year in exchange for testifying under a grant of immunity.

About 1,500 pages of her medical records will be combed through tomorrow. The defense is trying to paint her as a liar addled by medication she was taking after suffering a stroke and psychological problems.

She has been consistent in relating details of Keefer's death. Prosecutors are expected to say that whatever her ailments, what she has said conforms to the investigation into Keefer's death.

Yesterday, two witnesses for the defense said they saw Keefer after the time police think she was killed. Both testified that they saw her on the evening she was reported to have died.

Unlike the Keefers, Lucas was not marking his mother's birthday, barely noting the date. He remembers her in other ways, he said, such as in dreams so real that when he awakes he expects her at his bedside.

"My mom, I was real close with her, just as I am close with my dad. She was always a nice person," Lucas said. "One of the last things I did with her, she took the day off from work. We spent the day together.

As yesterday's testimony ended, Lucas said, "It's stressful." Most days, he goes to the home of a family friend where he is staying and listens to music, e-mails friends and talks by telephone with his father.

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