Life sentence upheld in 1971 killing of child

Judge didn't need to say suspended term was possible, court rules

June 11, 2003|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

The state's highest court upheld yesterday the life sentence of an Odenton man convicted of murder in the death of a child who was walking home from school, a 1971 crime that led to one of the most intensive searches in Anne Arundel County history.

The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that the judge who sentenced Richard Miles Chaney was presumed to have known that he could have suspended part of the sentence, even though he did not say so in court. To prevail, Chaney would have had to prove that the judge made an error, the court said.

Chaney, 63, was convicted in 1978 of murdering 10-year-old Elizabeth Ann Metzler, who one December day in 1971 failed to return home from Ridgeway Elementary School.

The crime sent shivers through the quiet Severn community where the girl lived. Residents - Chaney included, police think - helped in the three-day search, which ended with the discovery of the child's body in a wooded area in the northwestern part of the county.

"There were huge search parties," recalled Gerald K. Anders, a deputy state's attorney who tried the case 25 years ago. "Bits and pieces of her clothing and schoolbooks were found in various locations."

Despite the offer of a five-figure reward, the killing went unsolved for several years, though police suspected Chaney, a mechanic who lived in a nearby trailer park, when they investigated him in the sexual assault of his 7-year-old daughter.

In 1977, Chaney was serving a four-year sentence for incest when he told Anne Arundel police that he wanted to speak with them and confessed to killing Elizabeth.

At the trial, in Calvert County, Detective Thomas J. Mock testified that Chaney had told him he remembered being drunk, stopping his car and seeing a girl yelling at him. He said Chaney told him: "It was just like my wife. She was always screaming and crying."

After his conviction, Chaney challenged the indictment but was rebuffed by the Court of Appeals in 1985.

In his latest appeal, Chaney challenged the sentencing judge's failure to mention the possibility of suspending all or part of the sentence. That omission signaled that Judge Perry G. Bowen did not know he could suspend part of the sentence, Chaney argued.

The Court of Appeals rejected that argument. Writing for a unanimous court, Judge Glenn T. Harrell Jr. said judges are presumed to know the law and how to apply it but are not required to recite it in court. Two years before the 1978 trial, a court case clarified that suspension of a life sentence was allowed.

"Nothing has been presented that rebuts the presumption that the sentencing judge was aware of that decision," Harrell wrote.

Anders, the prosecutor in the original case, said the judge "doesn't have to explain what the entire panorama of sentencing options is. He doesn't have to say, `Let me show you that I know the law.'"

Chaney's lawyer, Fred Warren Bennett, was unavailable for comment yesterday.

The girl's mother could not be reached yesterday.

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