Man's conviction in plot to kill judge overturned

State high court troubled by mystery jury note

December 11, 2003|By Stephanie Hanes | Stephanie Hanes,SUN STAFF

Saying it was troubled by a mystery jury note, the state's highest court overturned yesterday the 2001 conviction of a man prosecutors say plotted to kill Baltimore County Circuit Judge Dana M. Levitz.

Christopher A. Denicolis, the Kingsville man who had been sentenced to 20 years in prison for solicitation to commit murder, will get a new trial. He is also serving 20 years for robbery.

"It's great news," said attorney Laurel Albin, who represented Denicolis in his appeal. "The unknown juror note was disturbing to us." The note was a question the jury in Denicolis' solicitation-to-commit-murder trial sent the judge, Robert H. Heller Jr., asking for a clear definition of "solicitation."

Albin said she found a copy of the note while going through the court file to prepare for Denicolis' appeal. She said she hadn't seen anything about that jury question in the trial transcripts, and when she asked Denicolis' trial lawyer about it, he said he didn't remember that question.

Maryland law requires a judge to tell the defendant and the prosecutors about any jury communication. But in this case, there was no record of the trial judge giving such notice.

Denicolis argued to the Court of Appeals that his rights had been violated. The state countered that any error by the trial court judge was harmless.

Yesterday, the court sided with Denicolis, 5-to-2. "The note asked for a definition of solicitation, which, in light of the differing positions of the State and petitioner and the arguments offered by each, went to the heart of the case," Judge Alan M. Wilner wrote for the majority.

Annabelle L. Lisic, the assistant attorney general who argued the case for the prosecution, could not be reached.

Denicolis was convicted of asking cellmate Kenneth Moroz to kill Levitz, who was to sentence him for a robbery conviction. Prosecutors said Denicolis wanted to kill the judge because he was worried Levitz would give him a lengthy sentence. Moroz told police about the plot.

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