Starvation trial site is changed

Pretrial publicity in Cecil case forces move to Queen Anne's

September 24, 2005|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,sun reporter

The trial of an Elkton man accused of starving his brain-damaged wife to death in February will take place on the Eastern Shore after pretrial publicity forced it from Cecil County, an administrative judge had decided.

John Joseph Dougherty will now stand trial in Queen Anne's County on charges of second-degree murder, manslaughter and abuse after his wife, Mary Elizabeth Kilrain, was found dead in the family home.

A Cecil judge ruled this week that the case had received too much publicity for Dougherty to receive a fair trial and granted a defense motion for a change of venue.

Kilrain was found dead Feb. 25 in an upstairs room in the family home, weighing 81 pounds and surrounded by decaying food and human feces and urine, according to court records.

Dougherty, 53, told police he locked her in the room five years earlier after she had become aggressive toward their daughters after she suffered an aneurysm. She was fed and bathed once a day, and often beat on the door to be let out, according to the records.

This week, Cecil County Circuit Court Clerk Mary Ann Shortall said the case had been assigned to Queen Anne's at a bench meeting of circuit judges. A new trial date has not been set.

Charges against Dougherty's live-in girlfriend, Kathleen Marie Zeman, were thrown out in August.

In jury selection for her trial, nearly all of the potential jurors said they had heard about the case, something Cecil County Circuit Court Administrative Judge Dexter M. Thompson Jr. said he has never seen before.

He granted a defense motion this month to move the case to another jurisdiction.

The Cecil state's attorney argued that though the case was well known, an impartial jury had been selected for Zeman's trial. Pretrial publicity was not by itself grounds for a change of venue, he said.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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