Recordings at issue in suspected death plot

Jurors should hear poor-quality tapes, defense attorney argues

January 03, 2002|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Taped conversations in a suspected murder-for-hire plot are so poor in quality that allowing jurors to hear them might make a difference in the case for his client, a defense attorney argued in Carroll County Circuit Court yesterday.

Leonard H. Shapiro, who is defending a college professor accused of plotting to kill her ex-husband, also argued that giving the jury a transcript of the tapes would be unfair because it is sometimes difficult to tell who is speaking on the tape.

He argued that jurors should decide for themselves what is on the tape.

Judge Raymond E. Beck heard the preliminary motion. Trial is scheduled for Jan 22.

Police arrested Constance Lee Etzler, 45, now of the 2000 block of Bethel Road near Finksburg, on April 12, after inmate Richard Richardson told authorities they had plotted to kill her former husband, William Lee Etzler.

William Etzler is a Westminster accountant from whom Constance Etzler was divorced in 1994 and with whom she had a child custody dispute.

On April 5, police found four gasoline cans under William Etzler's hunting cabin north of Cumberland in Clearville, Pa., that apparently were to be used to start a fire that would kill Mr. Etzler, according to charging documents.

But Shapiro said that 75 percent to 80 percent of his client's words on the recordings are almost impossible to hear, noting that authorities mistook the voice of a waitress at a Westminster restaurant for that of the accused.

"I think there may be some fairly substantial disagreement about what is being said by Ms. Etzler and whether it is even her speaking," Shapiro said.

But a transcript would be worse, Shapiro said, because it would be "natural on the part of jurors to assume what the state says transpired did transpire."

Richardson wore a tape recorder and worked with police for four conversations with the accused, said Deputy State's Attorney Tracy A. Gilmore. About 40 minutes of conversations were recorded.

Gilmore said the recordings have been improved by elimination of background noise and a revised transcript is being prepared.

After hearing the defense motion, Beck told both sides to look over the revised transcript, then ask him or another judge to rule on its admissibility.

When she was arrested, Etzler was working on her dissertation for a doctorate from the Johns Hopkins University and as an associate professor at Montgomery College in Rockville, teaching reading and English as a second language.

She remarried in September, according to the court file.

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