Professor charged in plot to kill ex-husband

Conspiracy with inmate to cause fire suspected

April 14, 2001|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

A Carroll County District Court judge has denied bail to a college professor accused of conspiring with a county jail inmate to cause a fire at a Pennsylvania hunting cabin that would kill her ex-husband.

Constance Lee Etzler, 45, of the 2100 block of Carrollton Road in Finksburg was arrested at her home Thursday on charges of conspiracy and solicitation to commit murder. A District Court commissioner set bail at $2 million that night.

Yesterday, Etzler's lawyer, Michael S. Levin, argued for lower bail, saying his client had never been arrested before and would not flee because she owns a house, has two teen-age children, is working toward a doctorate at the Johns Hopkins University and has been an associate professor for more than five years at Montgomery College.

According to charging documents, the investigation began April 4, when Richard Richardson, an inmate at the Carroll County Detention Center, said he had been asked to commit murder. He said he was paid $1,500 in August, when he and Etzler placed four six-gallon gasoline cans under a cabin in Clearville, Pa., 10 miles north of Cumberland, according to the documents. Police reported finding four cans under the cabin April 5.

Working with the Maryland State Police Special Investigative Support Unit, Richardson wore a tape recorder for three conversations with Etzler. On April 10, according to the charging documents, they met at a restaurant and Etzler gave Richardson a $100 down payment for a supposed inmate hit man and addresses where her ex-husband lives and works.

On April 12, she and Richardson met at a Westminster-area automotive store, where Etzler, anticipating being questioned by police, said she didn't want to know details of the killing, according to the documents.

Richardson is serving a six-month sentence for unauthorized use of Etzler's vehicle, said Deputy State's Attorney Tracy A. Gilmore.

Etzler's ex-husband, William Lee Etzler, a Westminster accountant, did not go hunting, and there was no fire.

At the bail hearing, Levin said the offense was "something made up in [Richardson's] mind" after his client broke off an abusive and manipulative relationship. "That's what this case will come down to at trial," Levin said. "He was trying to work his way out of a situation at the jail."

District Judge Marc G. Rasinsky ordered Etzler held without bail on the charges, which carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

Stephen Simon, a spokesman for Montgomery College, said Etzler has been on the faculty there since 1996, teaching developmental reading and English as a second language at the Rockville campus. She has been placed on administrative leave with pay, he said. He declined to comment further.

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