Dead man's conviction to stand

April 12, 2006|By NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON | NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON,SUN REPORTER

The Maryland Court of Appeals denied yesterday a request to have the murder conviction of a Waldorf man erased on the grounds that the man died while his appeal was pending.

The request was made on behalf of Stefan Tyson Bell, who was convicted in August 2003 of first-degree murder in the fatal beating of a Gambrills teenager, Joseph A. Demarest, 17, who was killed in 1996.

Bell, 27, died of a heroin overdose in prison in March 2005 before an appeal.

Bell's lawyer, assistant public defender George E. Burns Jr., had argued that according to court precedent, Bell's conviction should be vacated because he died before a first-level appeal was completed. This outraged victims' rights groups.

The court, however, departed from precedent and ruled that Bell's conviction should stand unless it is reversed on appeal.

Writing for the majority, Judge Alan M. Wilner wrote that the approach "preserves both the presumptive validity of the judgment and the ability of the defendant ... to maintain the defendant's challenge to it."

Frank R. Weathersbee, the Anne Arundel County state's attorney, said yesterday that the Demarest family was elated at the court's ruling.

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