A 45-year-old greater Annapolis man charged with first-degree murder pleaded guilty yesterday to the reduced charge of manslaughter for bludgeoning his wife to death in their home.
Stephen John Washko admitted in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court that he clubbed his wife, Linda Tansill Washko, 43, in the head more than a dozen times with a ball-peen hammer in the couple's Bon Haven home Jan. 30.
Her family, somberly watching in court, told Judge Eugene M. Lerner that they agreed with the plea, which specified that Lerner should recommend that Washko be evaluated for psychiatric care at Patuxent Institution.
Washko, a federal hazardous materials facility manager, faces a maximum prison term of 10 years for the manslaughter conviction, although Assistant State's Attorney Frank J. Ragione said he is not sure he will seek that much time.
"Mr. Washko has a great deal of mental disorders," defense attorney James N. Papirmeister said, telling Lerner that he would present more information at Washko's sentencing Nov. 9.
Lerner initially appeared reluctant to accept the plea, at one point suggesting that he would listen first to the opinion of the defense's forensic psychiatrist about Washko's mental condition.
"Am I going to get a greater explanation?" he asked.
Papirmeister said Dr. Neil Blumberg's findings would be presented at the Nov. 9 sentencing.
Prosecutors have called Washko mentally unstable. Police said he flung himself into traffic in a suicide attempt after killing his wife.
Ragione said Washko suffered from anxiety and depression. Outside the courtroom, he said Washko had suspected his wife was having an affair.
Washko said little in court and described himself as a facilities manager for a hazardous waste facility at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda.
The morning of the killing, Washko had driven his wife's car into the path of a truck on Route 301 near Bowie, according to police. After surviving that collision, police said, he got out of the car and leapt in front of a passing dump truck, the driver of which managed to avoid him.
When Prince George's County police arrived at the scene, Washko reportedly fought with them for 10 minutes before he was subdued. He was then taken to Prince George's Hospital Center to be treated for injuries he suffered in the crash.
Prince George's County police charged Washko with two counts of assaulting an officer. Those charges have been moved to an inactive docket.
In the hospital, Washko told his brother, Bruce Washko, that he and his wife had had a fight, that she had hit him with bags of canned goods, and that "she may be in there dead or something," Ragione said. His brother notified police.
The day after the killing, relatives of the victim and law enforcement officials went to the Washkos' home near the South River and discovered her body. Her family had grown concerned that her car was missing and that she had not reported to her job at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
The victim's family did not want to discuss the case yesterday, and Papirmeister said none of Stephen Washko's family was in court.
Last spring, defense attorneys began preparing for a possible insanity defense.
Asked outside the courtroom whether the Tansill family thought that Washko might have been found not criminally responsible for the killing by reason of insanity had the case gone to trial, Ragione replied, "I think that was a concern." He said the family favored the manslaughter plea over the possibility of a trial.
"I wasn't going to put them through something they didn't want to go through," he said.
Linda Washko's parents have filed two lawsuits against Washko, one of which seeks $6 million for the killing of their daughter.
The other seeks to bar him from receiving insurance benefits and other assets of his wife, under a state law aimed at preventing a person from profiting from wrongdoing.
The suits are pending.