25 years in double murder conviction

Judge commends man for `straightening out life' after Middle River killings

Original conviction overturned

May 29, 2002|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

A 57-year-old mill worker who led a nearly crime-free life in North Carolina was sentenced yesterday to 25 years for killing two men during a botched robbery in Middle River almost 20 years ago.

Jack D. Clark of Shelby, N.C., was sentenced by county Circuit Judge John G. Turnbull II for the 1982 fatal shootings of Larty G. Wood, 48, and George Wilker, 65, at the Alcove Bar in the 10700 block of Pulaski Highway. The bar has since been torn down.

Turnbull sentenced Clark to a life sentence, with all but 25 years suspended as part of a plea agreement Clark reached with prosecutors March 22.

Mary Patricia Clark, Clark's common-law wife, told Turnbull that her husband has been a model citizen since they moved to North Carolina in 1989. He worked in a fiberglass mill, cut grass for neighbors and did free home improvement projects for those in need in their neighborhood, she said.

"He never hurt me or anyone," she said.

Jerri Peyton-Braden, Clark's lawyer, said that Clark's last conviction in Maryland was for drug possession in 1984 and that his only criminal conviction since his move in 1989 was for driving while intoxicated several years ago.

"These were terrible crimes, there's no doubt about that," she told Turnbull. "But the person who stands before you today is a far different person."

Turnbull commended Clark for "straightening his life out," but said he still is responsible for the killings.

"The problem is that on October 7, 1982, this man in effect executed two individuals and is responsible for their deaths," Turnbull said.

Police said that Wilker, a night watchman who lived behind the bar, and the tavern owner, George Barnstorf, 63, were cleaning up about 5:30 a.m. when Barnstorf turned and saw a man with a bandanna over his face pointing a gun at Wilker.

Barnstorf ran for help and found Wood, a heavy equipment operator, waiting in the parking lot for a ride to a work site, police said.

Wood heard two shots, ran to the front entrance of the bar and was shot, police said.

Investigators initially considered Clark a suspect, but could not find sufficient evidence to charge him in the months after the killings, police said.

But county police detectives reopened the case in 1998 when they learned the Alcove was being torn down and reinterviewed co-defendant Charles Michael Grimes, who confessed.

Grimes, 42, of Sparrows Point, pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder, agreed to testify against Clark and was sentenced to 15 years in 1999.

He testified that Clark, who is his uncle, shot the victims while he acted as a lookout.

A Baltimore County jury convicted Clark of the killings and Turnbull sentenced him to two concurrent life terms in 1999.

But his conviction was reversed in June when the Court of Appeals ruled that Turnbull should have allowed defense lawyers to question Grimes about head injuries that might have caused memory problems.

Assistant State's Attorney Kim Detrick said that Grimes was extremely remorseful, but that Clark has not admitted guilt.

"He has never expressed one bit of remorse for what he did in this case," Detrick said.

Clark entered an Alford plea to felony murder March 22 rather than be tried a second time. The plea means Clark did not admit guilt, but acknowledged that the state had sufficient evidence to convict him.

Mrs. Clark insisted yesterday that her husband was innocent and only pleaded guilty to avoid a life sentence.

"He never showed any remorse because he didn't do it," she said.

But Detrick said that along with Grimes' account of the murders, Clark's DNA was found on the bandanna police found at the scene.

She said that shortly before the murders, witnesses also saw Clark with a handgun and heard Clark say that he wanted to rob the Alcove.

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