Stewart found guilty in killing of elderly man

Case sparked concerns about attacks on aged

January 19, 2000|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

A jury convicted an East Baltimore man yesterday of murdering an elderly Guilford resident and robbing him of $2,500 in a case that sparked community concerns about attacks on the aged.

The jury of nine women and three men took less than an hour to decide that Michael P. Stewart murdered James Chilis, 79, beating him with a telephone so severely that Chilis was in and out of hospitals for three months before he died in February.

Stewart, 48, stood expressionless as the verdict was read. Behind him, Chilis' family members, all dressed in black, held hands and wept.

"He's going to never be able to do it again," said Connie Tsakiris, Chilis' daughter. "I'm happy about the guilty verdict, but I still miss my father. "

Stewart, convicted of first-degree murder, burglary and armed robbery, could be sentenced to life without parole March 2. Stewart faces additional charges stemming from a string of attacks on the elderly in October and November 1998 in North Baltimore, including the robbery and fatal beating of Eunice Heath of Charles Village.

Prosecutors said yesterday they will wait until after the sentencing to decide whether they will try the remaining cases.

The Chilis case seemed open and shut from the beginning. Prosecutors found Stewart's palm print in blood smeared on the wall of Chilis' Underwood Road home -- evidence prosecutors called "a confession on the wall." In addition, Stewart's ex-girlfriend testified that he told her he bludgeoned and robbed Chilis.

Assistant State's Attorney Lawrence Doan faced hurdles because the victim did not die until three months after the attack Nov. 6. Doan had to convince the jury that Chilis died as a result of the wounds he suffered that day.

After the beating, Chilis took "a long, slow, painful, degrading trip downhill until his ultimate death," Doan said. The man family members described as vibrant and independent had to be put in a wheelchair, wear diapers and be watched around the clock, he said.

Stewart's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Melissa Richards, tried to poke holes in the state's case, suggesting that Chilis died from another cause.

Yesterday, family members remembered Chilis as a doting father and grandfather. He came to the United States from Greece in the 1940s and bought a seafood restaurant in Dundalk. After retiring, he could often be found at a coffee shop in Highlandtown, playing cards and chatting with friends, said his granddaughter Dorothea Tsakiris,16.

He bought groceries for his daughter and drove his grandchildren around town. The day before he died, lying in his hospital bed, he opened his eyes, looked at his granddaughter and blew her kisses.

"He was everything to me," Dorothea said. "He was a best friend, a father, a grandfather, everything."

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