Judge reduces bail in killing

Contractor, 56, accused in beating of psychologist

Suspect freed on $150,000

Court order places him under home detention

Carroll County

August 20, 2002|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

A Mount Airy contractor accused of fatally beating a Taylorsville psychologist was released from jail last night, hours after a Circuit Court judge reduced his bail from $1 million to $150,000.

Randall Henry Gerlach, 56, of the 13000 block of Manor Drive in Frederick County was arrested June 5 and had been held at the Carroll County Detention Center in Westminster. He is charged in the killing of Rodney R. Cocking, 59, a prominent researcher and program director at the National Science Foundation whose remains were found in a wooded watershed area of Frederick County four months after his disappearance.

A million dollars amounts to no bail at all, meaning the defendant cannot post that amount, said Judge Luke K. Burns Jr., who also ordered that Gerlach be placed under a home-detention program and the court's pretrial services upon release. The bail had been set by a District Court judge.

As Gerlach's wife, son and mother-in-law left to arrange a bail bond, a haggard-looking Gerlach walked from the courtroom in an orange inmate jumpsuit, his head bowed. His attorney told the judge that Gerlach has been in pain from a kidney stone and was housed in the jail's medical unit.

At the bail review hearing yesterday, defense attorney Barry H. Helfand of Rockville said Gerlach has no criminal record, served in the Army and has for 35 years been a businessman and resident of Mount Airy, where he contributed to community projects.

"He has lost his business [and] is not too well," the attorney said, noting that Gerlach must be presumed innocent before trial.

Saying he was not trying to sound "cocky," Helfand said that despite a 97-page charging document, the evidence seemed slight, including failure to identify a weapon. In addition, he said, prosecutors have no witnesses or confession to the killing, only bloodstains and some business-transaction records taken in a search warrant "looking for a motive."

In contrast, Senior Assistant State's Attorney David P. Daggett said the evidence is "very, very, very compelling against Mr. Gerlach" and includes a bloody sock from the victim found in the defendant's truck. He asked that bail remain at $1 million, calling Gerlach a flight risk.

Gerlach's family declined to comment after the bail review hearing, but Helfand said, "I think Judge Burns treated us very fairly, and I can only say my client and his family will be very happy."

In addition to murder, Gerlach has been indicted on theft charges. Gerlach owed Cocking $250,000 to $300,000 from a complex series of transactions from July 1994 through March last year, and Cocking was expecting a payment in February on his supposed investments, according to Daggett and the charging document.

The doctor disappeared Feb. 23 from his home in the 2800 block of Sams Creek Road, after he met Gerlach there to discuss damage from woodpecker holes, according to charging documents.

Since Gerlach's arrest, prosecutors have filed an additional theft charge involving a Mount Airy couple, and have obtained court orders for records from more than two dozen banks, credit unions and building supply stores, according to court files.

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