Man who saw killing pleads guilty, to testify

February 20, 2008|By Melissa Harris

A 25-year-old man who admitted watching an associate push an 18-year-old into the Patapsco River in South Baltimore and then fatally beat him in the head with a stick as the victim tried to stay afloat pleaded guilty yesterday to assault and conspiracy to commit assault.

Under the terms of a deal with prosecutors, John Linton is to testify against Gary Froneberger, 23, whose first-degree murder trial began yesterday before Circuit Judge Lynn K. Stewart.

Testimony from Linton and Froneberger's girlfriend, whom prosecutors said also witnessed the beating, is crucial because a Baltimore Fire Department dive team never recovered the victim's body from near the Baltimore Rowing Club off the 3300 block of Waterview Ave., in the Middle Branch.

If Linton's statements on the witness stand match earlier ones he gave to police, Stewart said, he would receive a 15-year suspended sentence and five years of probation for the assault. Sentencing is scheduled for March 18.

The victim, Abdul Rahim Azzie, was reported missing in March. More than a year later, an inmate, Froneberger's cousin, came forward with information about Azzie's disappearance, and in August 2006, the suspect confessed, Assistant State's Attorney Rita Wisthoff-Ito said in court.

Linton told police that Azzie owed Froneberger money. He admitted punching Azzie in the chest, but he said that Froneberger ordered the victim to take off his clothes, pushed him into the water and began violently hitting him in the head with a large stick until he no longer surfaced.

Azzie "continuously begged him to stop and said that he would get him the money he owed," Wisthoff-Ito said.

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