Jurors hear testimony in Stanley slaying trial

Mental health evaluations of defendant were varied

accused in stabbing death

September 25, 2002|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

Testimony in the murder case against a 47-year-old man accused of fatally stabbing a man who visited his Columbia apartment began yesterday - two years after the alleged crime and after a mental health evaluation finally deemed him competent to stand trial.

The murder and felony assault case against Rodney Maurice Stanley had remained in a legal limbo for months as mental health evaluators from Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center found him first incompetent, then competent, then incompetent again, finally issuing a finding of competency a few weeks ago.

The trial was also stalled as Stanley, who, according to court files, has been diagnosed with psychotic and personality disorders, changed lawyers twice.

But none of that was in evidence yesterday - mental health issues are expected to be addressed only if there is a conviction - as a prosecutor painted jurors a picture of a brutal crime and Stanley's defense attorney portrayed his client as a man trying only to defend himself from an aggressor.

"This is a very sad case about the terrible violence that people are sometimes capable of inflicting on one another," Deputy State's Attorney I. Matthew Campbell told Howard jurors during his opening statement.

Defense attorney Clarke F. Ahlers told jurors that the victim, Thomas Jefferson Harding, 32, was to blame.

"Somebody was going to die on Aug. 17, 2000, if Thomas Jefferson Harding had anything to do about it," he said. "Unfortunately, he lost the fight he started."

Harding was legally intoxicated and had picked up the knife first, forcing Stanley to defend himself "out of fear and courage," Ahlers said during his opening statement.

But Campbell noted the number of wounds - 19, including eight stab wounds and 11 slashing wounds. The deepest penetrated 7 inches into Harding's body, the prosecutor said.

Stanley had no injuries to show "an apparent struggle," Campbell said.

Howard County officers testified yesterday that when they arrived at the scene in the 8800 block of Roll Right Court in the Long Reach village, Stanley, who was standing outside, a phone in one hand and an unknown object in the other, motioned to his apartment and said, "He's in there."

The officers found a blood-covered knife with an 8-inch blade on a boombox by the door and Harding lying on the floor by a kitchen table bleeding, according to testimony.

A woman and her 12-year-old daughter were calmly watching television in the apartment when police arrived, according to testimony.

It was unclear yesterday whether either would testify; lawyers said they had been unable to locate the woman, Marcia Minor.

But one of Stanley's next-door neighbors testified that she heard no commotion or arguing through the apartment walls.

Before the attack, Donna Brennan testified, she saw Stanley and Harding talking outside the apartment about whether Harding "had the money."

Lawyers said during opening statements that Harding was looking for a place to live.

Testimony before Howard Circuit Judge Diane O. Leasure is scheduled to resume this morning.

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