A Mount Airy man was sentenced to 10 years in prison yesterday after entering an Alford plea to a charge of manslaughter in the shotgun killing of an acquaintance in April.
Dennis B. Absher, 56, had been charged with first- and second-degree murder. In making an Alford plea to the amended charge, he did not admit guilt, but agreed that it was in his best interest to accept the plea bargain and avoid conviction on the more serious charge.
Aaron H. Smith, the 26-year-old victim from Beltsville, was found dead April 24 in the doorway of Absher's home in the 4700 block of Roop Road, according to a statement of facts presented to Carroll Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. by prosecutor Brian DeLeonardo.
Victim hit in chest
Absher, who uses a wheelchair, was extremely intoxicated when he fired his 12-gauge shotgun once, striking Smith in the chest, DeLeonardo said.
Smith, Absher and two other men had been drinking and playing cards when Smith went outside, DeLeonardo said. When Smith returned, Absher had the shotgun and was grossly negligent in aiming it at him and pulling the trigger, DeLeonardo said.
Had the case gone to trial, expert witnesses would have testified that the fatal blast was fired from 5 or 6 feet, DeLeonardo said.
Absher also entered an Alford plea and was given a concurrent, five-year sentence to a charge of possession of a firearm after having been previously convicted of a felony.
Convicted in 1980 case
DeLeonardo said that Absher was convicted of second-degree murder for the fatal shooting of a Westminster man at a Montgomery County shopping center in 1980.
The victim in that incident was James R. Edwards, 30. He lived on Hook Road, but apparently was a frequent visitor to the Wheaton area, where he was fatally shot at Viers Mill Shopping Center on Nov. 10, 1980, authorities said.
According to newspaper accounts, Edwards was shot in the head from close range by a man sitting in a van. Witnesses gave police a description of the van, which later was stopped in Gaithersburg. A suspect in the van, identified as Absher, was arrested, charged and convicted.
On appeal, that conviction and 25-year-sentence was modified, DeLeonardo said.
Absher was released from prison in 1988 and was living in Silver Spring in 1990 when he was convicted of a drug paraphernalia charge, court records show.
State police praised
Kenneth D. Man, a Baltimore attorney representing Absher, praised state police for a thorough investigation in the most recent case, noting that the original charge of murder was amended and implying that Smith's death was unintentional.
Absher did not testify yesterday. He appeared attentive but unemotional as Regina Smith, the victim's sister-in-law, tearfully read aloud impact statements from her mother-in-law and herself.
She pleaded with Beck to impose a maximum sentence, asking the judge rhetorically, "How can Dennis Absher be convicted [previously] and continue to drink and murder someone else?"
She described the anger and agony she felt telling her four children why their Uncle Aaron was dead.