An Olney man who eluded police for four years admitted yesterday that he fatally shot an Anne Arundel man in what prosecutors called a botched effort to persuade the victim to move out of the apartment he shared with a roommate.
Kenneth F. Diggs Jr., 36, pleaded guilty before Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Ronald A. Silkworth to second-degree murder and a handgun violation in exchange for a prison term not to exceed 12 years. Diggs can seek a shorter sentence when he is sentenced Feb. 3.
The victim, Ahmad Jamal Tutwiler, 31, was shot in the face as he returned to his apartment in the 200 block of Red Clay Road near Laurel on Jan. 31, 2000.
Diggs, arrested in Washington last spring after spending time in North Carolina, was the last of six people apprehended in connection with the shooting.
He was charged with first-degree murder, but going to trial posed a risk for both sides.
If convicted of that charge and a weapons charge, Diggs faced a possible prison sentence of life plus 25 years, in part because of prior convictions. That made the plea offer appealing, said defense lawyer Louis J. Martucci.
Martucci added that the prosecution had a problematic first-degree murder case.
Two of the prosecution witnesses had been in trouble with police for prostitution; one of them had been in a drug rehabilitation program, and the other had been convicted of possession of drug paraphernalia.
The victim also had been convicted of battery and a drug-related offense, according to court records.
"If we went to trial," Martucci said, "the defense would have been, `It was accidental.'"
Assistant State's Attorney Fred Paone conceded that he had "major proof problems in this case."
As for the reasoning behind the plea agreement, he said, "The last thing the victim's family wanted was for [Diggs] to be walking out of a courtroom without him taking responsibility for what he did."
Tutwiler's relatives did not attend the hearing.
The prosecutor provided this account to the judge:
Tutwiler had moved in with Paul Michael Beisler and Beisler's 6-year-old son, but Tutwiler and Beisler were at odds. The day before the shooting, Beisler was to take a woman, Deanna Gregory, somewhere.
Tutwiler demanded a ride to Glen Burnie, and, after Tutwiler fired a few shots into the air, Beisler consented and dropped Tutwiler off.
Beisler and Gregory met up with Diggs at an Olney gas station before going to a Lanham motel. They then picked up Kenneth Diggs Sr., the defendant's father. As they returned to the Laurel apartment, Beisler was "spilling his soul" about his roommate problems, Paone said. Beisler wanted Tutwiler to move out, and the group planned a robbery that they hoped would persuade Tutwiler to leave.
They returned to the apartment early Jan. 31, where Terry Mae Palmer was waiting with Beisler's sleeping son.
"They partied - I think that would be the best term used" - for a few hours, Paone said. In the morning, Beisler left for work and took his son to day care. Gregory also left.
Some of the remaining group members tried, by telephone, to persuade Tutwiler to return to the apartment "by telling him people were ripping off some of his items and the drugs he had there," Paone said.
An acquaintance of Diggs, David A. Boccabella, came by.
An upset Tutwiler called the apartment before returning about 6:30 p.m. As Tutwiler entered, Diggs put a gun to the back of his head. Tutwiler resisted and turned. The gun discharged, hitting Tutwiler. Diggs' relatives said he told them Tutwiler hit Diggs' arm, causing the gun to fire, the prosecutor said.
Beisler, returning home later to find Tutwiler's body, contacted authorities, Paone said.
Murder charges against Diggs' father and Palmer were dropped for lack of evidence, and murder charges against Gregory were dropped after she agreed to testify for the prosecution. Boccabella pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact and was sentenced to serve four years of a five-year term. Last month, he was ordered to serve the remaining year because of a probation violation.
Beisler pleaded guilty to conspiracy to theft, and was sentenced to serve 3 1/2 years of a 15-year term.