Gun buyer is ruled liable in killing

Victim's family sued Essex woman who gave weapons to Palczynski

April 05, 2003|By Stephanie Hanes | Stephanie Hanes,SUN STAFF

The Essex woman who bought Joseph Palczynski two guns before his murderous rampage in 2000 is liable for the death of Jennifer McDonel, whom Palczynski fatally shot, Baltimore County Circuit Judge Lawrence R. Daniels ruled yesterday.

"But for Ms. [Constance A.] Waugh putting the rifle into Mr. Palczynski's hands, Mrs. McDonel would not have been killed," Daniels said. "The law prohibiting straw-person sales was put into place to prevent this sort of tragedy."

Because of Daniels' ruling in the civil lawsuit, Waugh owes McDonel's family $300,000, an amount that had been agreed upon by both sides before yesterday's hearing.

The decision bodes well for two other lawsuits filed against Waugh by the relatives of David Meyers, who also was killed by Palczynski.

Waugh has filed for bankruptcy protection, and attorney Brice G. Dowell said he and his client, Thomas McDonel, will sue Waugh's homeowners' insurance company for the money.

"Now the struggle starts," Dowell said, walking out of court with McDonel.

McDonel and his pregnant wife, Jennifer, were driving along Ebenezer Road to a prayer service the night of March 8, 2000, when Palczynski shot at the car.

McDonel took the wheel from his injured wife and rushed to Franklin Square Hospital Center, where she died.

Yesterday, McDonel, 45, said he felt mixed emotions about the court hearing.

"It's tough," he said. "It reminds you of everything."

Waugh bought an assault rifle and a 12-gauge shotgun for Pal- czynski on March 6, 2000, a day before he kidnapped his former girlfriend from a Bowleys Quarters apartment and killed three people. Two days later, he shot McDonel.

Palczynski, who was fatally shot by police two weeks after he began his rampage, was not able to purchase the guns himself because he had been convicted of assault.

Waugh has said that Palczynski -- a longtime friend of her daughter's -- told her he wanted to go target shooting that weekend. She has insisted she had no idea of his true plans.

Dowell and Waugh's lawyer, Denis J. Murphy, said they had worked out many of the lawsuit's details ahead of time. Both had stipulated to the facts of the case, as well as the monetary award for damages, leaving only the legal issue for the judge.

"We wanted to avoid all the trauma that goes with a drawn-out court process," Murphy said. "For both families."

Waugh, 51, left the courtroom without comment yesterday. Murphy said that her affidavit says everything about her position.

"When I found out about [Palczynski's] criminal, mental and disturbed family history I felt that he deceived and manipulated me to purchase the rifle for him," she wrote in October. "Had I known of his history I would have never purchased the rifle, or even allowed him into my home."

In January 2001, Waugh was sentenced to 16 months in prison for violating federal gun laws.

As he walked out of court yesterday, McDonel said he wished that Waugh and the Palczynski family had apologized to him and the other victims' families.

It has been difficult moving forward after his wife's murder, he said.

"It comes down to friends and your faith in God," he said.

He said he has a girlfriend now, Ruth Little, whom he met at church. Little, along with his 4-year-old daughter, Lydia McDonel, have been his strength, he said.

"They're my main support and inspiration," he said.

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