10-year term in woman's crushing death

Friend gets 8 years for role in pushing Jeep downhill

October 23, 2002|By Stephanie Hanes | Stephanie Hanes,SUN STAFF

Their months-long crime spree culminated in February, when David J. Myers, 20, and Anton F. Marx Jr., 19, sent a black Jeep Wrangler careening down a hill in Cockeysville, through an apartment building's brick walls and onto the bed of a sleeping Melanie Wentz.

The young men had not intended to hurt anyone and never imagined their string of car break-ins and vandalism would end with a 28-year-old being crushed to death by the 3,000-pound car, they told a judge and Wentz's tearful family yesterday, asking for mercy in sentencing.

"I'm sure the defendant is sorry," Baltimore County Circuit Judge John G. Turnbull II responded. "But it's too little too late."

With that, Turnbull sentenced Myers, a Parkville resident, to 10 years in prison, the maximum for the involuntary manslaughter charge against him. Soon, the judge had similar words for Marx, also of Parkville, who encouraged Myers and a juvenile to shove the Jeep.

"He is as culpable as if he pushed the Jeep himself," Turnbull said, sentencing Marx to eight years.

The sentencing concluded the case that Assistant State's Attorney Kim Detrick called one of the most emotionally difficult she has prosecuted, that Turnbull described as "completely outrageous," and that Wentz's family called senseless and devastating.

Around 2 a.m. on Feb. 12, police said, Marx, Myers and the juvenile drove near Wentz's Cockeysville apartment building on Limestone Valley Drive to continue their months-long spree of breaking into Jeeps throughout Baltimore County.

They found a black Jeep in the parking lot about 12 feet above her building. After breaking into the car, Myers and the juvenile released its parking brake and put it into neutral, police said. Then, after Marx told them to "give it a push into the wall," police reported, they shoved the car downhill.

Melanie Wentz had spent the evening with friends who worked with her at the Baltimore Zoo.

Wentz, whose family said she has always loved animals, had moved to Baltimore for the job a year earlier. Before that, she had worked at a zoo in Indiana and at the New Jersey State Aquarium.

"She firmly believed that if people could learn to love and respect the living world that they could then learn to love and respect each other," her friend and co-worker Amanda Hitt wrote to the court.

About 8:30 p.m., her friends said, Wentz gave them hugs and returned to her apartment.

"Melanie went to sleep in the safety of her bed Monday night, unafraid," her brother, Robert Wentz, said in a eulogy, a copy of which he sent to the judge. "Safe to dream of the Elephants and Antelopes, the Giraffes and the Lions in her zoo, and of her so beloved little dog Patty Cake."

She awoke, screaming, at 2:09 a.m. The Jeep had smashed through the wall and onto her bed, where it was crushing her upper body.

As she cried for help, police and rescue workers tried, vainly, to lower the bed or raise the Jeep. The effectiveness of the heavy-duty, inflatable pillows paramedics tried to use to lift the car was hampered because they had to be placed on the soft bed.

At least one rescue worker had to take control of Patty Cake, who was also on the bed, frantic and growling at anybody who came near Wentz.

By the time rescue workers lifted the Jeep, Wentz had died.

"The death certificate that we received indicates, `time of injury 2:09 a.m. -- time of death 2:34 a.m.,' " Judith Rainear, Wentz's mother, wrote in her victim impact statement. "I cannot allow myself to think of that time period -- that horrible 25 minutes."

In court yesterday, attorneys for both Marx and Myers said their clients had true remorse. They asked the judge to consider their clients' backgrounds: Myers was abandoned by his heroin-addict parents when he was 13 and has lived in foster care; Marx was raised by his great-grandmother.

In court, some of Marx's neighbors stood and apologized to Wentz's family, saying they tried to do what they could for the boy down the street.

Both men apologized to Wentz's family.

"I'm terribly sorry," Myers said, sniffling. "Like it's been said, I would trade places." He gave a little shrug as he looked across the courtroom into a dozen stony faces. "I know whatever I say doesn't matter. I'm sorry."

Myers and Marx pleaded guilty in August to involuntary manslaughter, the most serious charge against them. Detrick said the state agreed not to prosecute the lesser theft charges, which she said would have likely been incorporated into the manslaughter sentence.

"We didn't offer these guys anything," she said.

The state's attorney's office was not able to charge the men with any count more serious than involuntary manslaughter because higher charges require proof of intent, and no one claimed that Marx or Myers intended to cause physical harm.

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