Howard judge denies plea by killer for reduced term

Shifflett sought parole from 1980 conviction

June 13, 2000|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

When Bobby Lee Shifflett left a Howard County courtroom yesterday to return to prison, the memories of his brutal crime 20 years ago didn't follow him out the door.

Instead, after a tense and emotional hearing, Shifflett left the family of his victim and others involved with the case to continue dealing the impact of Anne Marie Schnell's death on May 3, 1979.

"This goes on forever," said Florence Miller, the victim's mother. "We truly have a life sentence."

Shifflett was convicted of bludgeoning 17-year-old Anne Marie to death and sentenced to life in prison in early 1980. Yesterday, he asked Howard County Circuit Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr. to reduce his life sentence, granting him a shot at freedom. Kane denied the motion, which is likely to be Shifflett's last appeal.

The hourlong hearing might have been the final chapter in the criminal case, but the killing remains raw in the minds of Miller and other family members, and it still touches those who worked on the case.

The prosecutor remembers looking out his window on the morning of the killing and seeing Shifflett, a county maintenance worker, mow the grass.

The detective recalls getting Shifflett to crack after four hours of interrogation.

And every time Shifflett's former defense attorney goes near the place where the girl was killed he considers the "sheer violence of it all."

"It's one of those kinds of cases," said Richard J. Kinlein, the defense attorney. "They stick in your mind."

The day it happened

Shifflett was driving a county truck about 1:30 that afternoon when he happened upon Anne Marie, who was walking to her apartment. He offered her a ride. She accepted. Anne Marie might have known Shifflett. They lived in the same apartment complex.

Shifflett tried to rape Anne Marie, but she fought back and kicked him in the groin, Shifflett told police. He became angry and smashed her head with a heavy ratchet at least 19 times and dumped her body in a manhole in a wooded area of Ellicott City between Sylvan Lane and Park Drive.

Later that afternoon, he went back to the scene with other workers, saying he was looking for water to fill a canteen. He then pretended to discover Anne Marie's body.

Lt. Richard Witte, then a detective with eight years of experience on the force, went to the scene and saw a familiar face: He had worked a child molestation case a few years earlier that involved Shifflett. After speaking with the other county laborers, he focused his attention on the Ellicott City man, then 32, who later confessed.

"A lot of times, the people who commit the crime help in the search," Witte said. "They do this to throw suspicion off themselves. `How could this be me? I found the body.'"

"I'm sorry I did it," Shifflett wrote in a handwritten note attached to his typed confession. "I didn't realize I was doing it. I went back to see if she was alive and take her to hospital, but she wasn't."

Shifflett's attorney, public defender Louis P. Willemin, argued yesterday that his client had changed and was a model prisoner. This was his client's last shot, though he is eligible for parole.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening will not grant parole for inmates serving life terms, and Shifflett needed a judge to reduce his sentence for a chance at freedom.

Shifflett also spoke yesterday.

"This Bobby Lee Shifflett is not the same Bobby Lee Shifflett as in 1979," he said, speaking in the third person. "Bobby Lee Shifflett has changed his life completely."

Kane disagreed. So did the victim's family.

Testifying before Kane, pleading with him to keep Shifflett in prison forever, family members said they worry that he could strike again, finding another unsuspecting girl.

They said they are scared by what they see: a man seemingly without remorse who cannot control his anger toward women. Shifflett has admitted beating several wives and was charged with a sex offense involving a child three years before he killed Anne Marie.

"Protect our daughters and granddaughters," said Ellery Miller, 52, who married Anne Marie's mother months after the teen-ager was slain.

Father travels from Maine

Anne Marie's father, Carson Schnell, came from Maine to attend the hearing. As he walked to the witness stand, he eyed Shifflett up and down.

He recounted his own trouble growing up, a father who beat him, foster homes, short stays with other families. He was able to get his life together, he said, but Shifflett never will.

"Bobby Lee Shifflett has not managed his demons," Schnell said. "Bobby Lee Shifflett should stay where he is, for the rest of his life."

It's not fair, he said, for Shifflett to earn freedom when Anne Marie "is incarcerated in the ground forever."

Schnell told how, a few years after Anne Marie was killed, he and another daughter were walking along a beach, under a full moon, when he waded into the water to rescue a skiff caught adrift. His daughter began to scream, "Come back, come back. You'll be killed."

"Oh, Daddy, please don't die," she told him. "If we have to die, can we all die together?"

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