Friend links '02 killing to money

Witness testifies victim demanded $312,000 owed

Mount Airy contractor on trial

April 02, 2003|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

A man who had a longstanding personal relationship with slain psychologist Rodney R. Cocking testified yesterday that Cocking had been demanding payment of a large sum of money from the man accused of beating him to death.

In the weeks before his disappearance in February last year, , Cocking demanded more than $300,000 from contractor Randall Henry Gerlach, said Walter Schultz of Trenton, N.J., who said he spoke to Cocking several times a day and visited him almost every weekend.

The testimony, on the first day of Gerlach's murder trial in Carroll County Circuit Court, fit the prosecution theory that the motive for the killing lies in the financial relationship between Cocking and the defendant.

Gerlach, 57, of the 13000 block of Manor Drive on the Frederick County portion of Mount Airy is charged with first-degree murder and theft.

He was arrested June 5, about 12 days before a man walking his dog in a remote wooded area of Frederick County found the skeletal remains of Cocking, 59, a National Science Foundation program director and child psychologist.

In his opening statement yesterday, Carroll County Senior Assistant State's Attorney David P. Daggett told jurors they would hear during the trial of "a very complicated and convoluted fact pattern that led up to the murder."

Gerlach is suspected of killed Cocking the morning of Feb. 23, when he visited to discuss siding work resulting from woodpecker damage to the house in the 2800 block of Sams Creek Road in Taylorsville and a payment due of about $312,000, Daggett said.

The prosecutor said Gerlach is the last person known to have seen Cocking alive and that he made contradictory statements to the police and to Schultz. Spots of blood found under Gerlach's truck - despite its having been washed - "were a dead-on match for Dr. Cocking's," he said.

The prosecutor told the jurors they would hear about a "scam that Randy Gerlach had going. The defendant was living in a house of cards, and he was praying that the wind didn't blow his cards down."

Then, he said, "Dr. Cocking had demanded his money back."

Defense attorney Barry H. Helfand challenged the prosecution's theory of the case, telling the jury that police found promissory notes verified as having been signed by Cocking - "and, uh-oh, they're signed as `paid.'"

That eliminates the supposed motive, he said, adding that that any testimony about Gerlach's financial dealings with other people are irrelevant to the case.

"They knew Randy Gerlach was there that Saturday," he said, and the authorities settled on him as a suspect without looking into others - including a man he said had fled from the police - or testing blood spots found in Cocking's garage.

The first witness in the trial was Cocking's sister, Darlene L. Gies.

Gies, the executor of his estate, said her younger brother kept "very, very documented records."

Schultz, 72, then testified that he had had a personal relationship with Cocking for many years. He said he had met Gerlach on occasion since Cocking bought the house about nine years ago and that Cocking and Gerlach had a relationship that was "business, investment and friends."

The arrangement with Gerlach was supposed to be a secret, but Schultz said Cocking had told him about it and that he had been demanding that Gerlach return more than $300,000 in investment money.

Schultz said Cocking had bought a condominium in January last year in Arlington, Va., and had hoped to obtain his money on the day that he disappeared.

Schultz said that when he arrived at Cocking's home Feb. 23 last year and found him missing, he immediately suspected that Gerlach was responsible.

He said he frantically contacted several people, including Gerlach. He said he mentioned the demand for money, and he quoted Gerlach as replying, "Everything has been taken care of."

Schultz choked up when Daggett showed him a photograph of a ring and bracelet owned by Cocking and held up his own similar items. Asked to identify Gerlach in courtroom, Schultz extended his arm to point a shaking finger at the defendant, who sat glumly at the defense table.

Under cross-examination, Schultz told Helfand that he did not tell the police about his suspicion of Gerlach because close friends had advised him not to accuse anyone.

The trial before Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. is expected to continue for about two weeks.

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