Suspect's ex-girlfriend testifies he told her of beating and robbing elderly man

Baltimore jury hears first witnesses in Stewart trial

January 13, 2000|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

Michael P. Stewart, on trial in the killing of a 79-year-old man, told his girlfriend that he beat and robbed the Guilford resident of $2,500, the woman testified yesterday.

Debra Harris' testimony in Baltimore Circuit Court occurred on the first day of Stewart's trial. He is accused of breaking into James Chilis' house and bludgeoning him with a telephone, causing such serious brain injuries that he died three months later.

Stewart, 48, of the 1200 block of Treeleaf Court is charged in a string of attacks on the elderly in October and November of 1998 in North Baltimore, including the robbery and beating death of Eunice Heath of Charles Village. This is the first of several expected trials, prosecutors said.

Yesterday, Harris told jurors that Stewart arrived home on a Friday afternoon in early November, flashing money and telling her to count it. She said he told her that he got the $2,500 after a fight with "an old white guy."

"He told me he grabbed the guy around the neck. They were struggling. He said `This was a tough old b------ ,' " Harris said. At this, one of Chilis' family members broke down in tears.

Assistant State's Attorney Lawrence Doan, in his opening statement, told jurors that when police arrived at Chilis' Underwood Road home on Nov. 7, they found him on the floor near the door, covered in dried blood and fading in and out of consciousness.

A bloody palm print was found on a wall, he said.

"The best means of identifying ourselves we hold in our hands," Doan said. The killer "left a house that was ransacked, he left Mr. Chilis lying in his own blood and, most importantly, he left behind a partially bloody palm print."

The charges could bring a sentence of life without parole.

Defense attorney Melissa Richards, trying to poke holes in the state's case, told the jury that the palm print was only partial and that Harris should not be trusted because she had drug problems. Harris, now married to someone else, testified that she recently completed drug rehabilitation.

"It is not as clear-cut as Mr. Doan made it out to be," Richards said.

Harris testified that she and Stewart used cocaine and heroin daily, spending an average of $200 a day on drugs.

Richards challenged her memory of Stewart's arrival at home that day. "Would you say your head was clearer in April [1999, after rehabilitation] than it was in November [1998]?" Richards asked.

"Yes," Harris responded.

Prosecutors said that days before the attack, Chilis had cashed a check for about $2,500 from rental properties he owned.

Under cross examination, Harris testified that she and Stewart spent all the money in four days. They bought food, clothes, movie tickets and drugs, she said.

At the end of the day, Chilis' daughter, Connie Tsakiris, took the stand. She testified that before the attack, her father led an independent life.

She said he was supposed to come to her house Nov. 6 to bring her groceries but never showed up. Worried, she called, and the next day she went to the house. She described finding his body with police.

"I saw my father lying on the floor, and he had blood all over him. He was black and blue and swollen all over," she testified. His injuries forced him to wear diapers and be fed through a tube, she said, and he could not recognize family members. She told the jury her father was in three hospitals before he died Feb. 19.

"He was never the same," she said.

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