Manslaughter guilty plea entered in 1991 shooting

Va. man had won appeal because of prosecutor `zeal'

Howard County

January 30, 2003|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

A Virginia man accused of fatally shooting his cousin in a Jessup hotel room in 1991 pleaded guilty to a single count of manslaughter yesterday - more than six years after his original murder conviction was overturned by appellate judges who said his right to a fair trial was compromised by a prosecutor's "zeal."

Adel George Hagez, 54, who lives in the Richmond area, entered the plea as part of a deal with prosecutors, who agreed to reduce the charge against him from first-degree murder to voluntary manslaughter.

"It was a life decision to put this behind him and move forward with the hope that any period of incarceration will be brief," Hagez's lawyer, Joseph Murtha, said after yesterday's hearing. Hagez's case was delayed for several years while one of his former lawyers unsuccessfully argued that a retrial would violate his constitutional protection against being tried for the same crime twice.

"He wanted to resolve this with some certainty that he would be able to, God willing, be a free man in the future," Murtha said.

Laws in place at the time of Riad Hijaz's death June 22, 1991, would make Hagez eligible for parole after serving one-fourth of his sentence, court officials said. Hagez served nearly 38 months of a life sentence before his first-degree murder conviction in 1993 was reversed - more than 25 percent of the 10-year maximum penalty for a manslaughter conviction.

Howard Circuit Judge Lenore R. Gelfman revoked Hagez's $200,000 bond after the plea despite a request that he remain free until his sentencing May 2.

Hagez, who was released from prison in July 1996 and owns a restaurant in Norfolk, Va., reported regularly to a probation agent while awaiting a second trial and showed for his court appearances, Murtha said. He also gave Gelfman letters from the mayors of Norfolk and Portsmouth, Va., vouching for Hagez's "high moral character."

"This is the light at the end of the tunnel," Murtha told Gelfman. "He understands what his responsibilities are."

Yesterday's plea marks a final chapter in a case marked by delays and intrigue. Hagez's then ex-wife, Virginia, had come to Howard County to run a food stand at the Columbia Fair and was staying at the Jessup Holiday Inn, prosecutor Danielle Duclaux said.

She told investigators that she had called Hijaz to her room to help her with something, left to pay a bill and found him lying in the room when she returned, Duclaux said; he had been shot six times. But witnesses told investigators that they heard a woman yell "No, no" just before shots were fired.

Virginia Hagez provided investigators with a possible motive - though she insisted that nothing was going on between her and Hijaz - and pointed them to the parking lot in Montgomery County where officers found a revolver and spent cartridges in a car registered to Adel Hagez's address, according to court files. His fingerprint and Hijaz's blood were on the gun, Duclaux said.

But the Hagezes remarried four days before the 1993 trial. Virginia Hagez tried to invoke spousal privilege, but a judge said prosecutors could question her. The appellate court took issue with the way prosecutor Christine Gage, who has since left the state's attorney's office, questioned her on the witness stand and referred to her silence in closing arguments.

Yesterday, Duclaux said the fact that the Hagezes were "lawfully remarried" was a consideration in the state's decision to amend the indictment to manslaughter.

Riad Hijaz's ex-wife, Connie Hijaz, said yesterday that "it just doesn't seem right" that Hagez has been free for so long and was given a chance to plead to a reduced charge.

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