Whittington parole opposed

February 03, 1998


Staff Writer

The director of CrimeStrike, a division of the National Rifle Association, will join the parents of a murdered woman in lobbying against an early release for her husband, Jeffrey Todd Whittington.

Elizabeth Swasey plans to attend Whittington's Feb. 9 parole hearing in Hagerstown, according to Joseph Praetz, whose daughter Missy was killed in Washington County in 1993.

In a letter to The Herald-Mail, Swasey said her organization fights early parole, which she said is granted at the "sacrifice of the safety of law-abiding citizens."


Swasey urged people who agree with CrimeStrike's "Keep Killers In Prison" program to write to Patricia Cushwa, chairwoman of the Maryland Parole Commission, 6776 Reisterstown Road, Suite 307, Baltimore, Md. 21215 - on the Whittington case No. 253646.

Praetz and his wife, Mary Lee, are preparing to come to Hagerstown from their Virginia home. As the hearing date draws near, family members say they are confident of the outcome.

"I'm feeling that justice will be done," Praetz said in a telephone conversation Tuesday.

A year ago, Whittington failed to persuade a judge to shorten the 20-year prison sentence he's serving for the strangulation of his bride of three weeks.

Washington County Circuit Judge John H. McDowell issued his ruling in February 1997, saying that in this case, there was a reason for "punishment for punishment's sake."

Praetz said he hopes the parole board members will concur with McDowell and keep Whittington in prison.

Last fall, Mary Lee Praetz appeared on the Montel Williams television talk show to tell her story on a segment devoted to the issue of people who get out of prison too soon.

Whittington was 19 when he was charged with strangling his 20-year-old wife, Missy, as they argued in her car while parked on Pectonville Road west of Clear Spring on Feb. 28, 1993.

A Washington County Circuit jury in October 1993 convicted him of second-degree murder.

Now 24, Whittington has been in prison for more than four years.

"The defendant extinguished a life by his own hand. That life was precious to the victim, to Missy Praetz' family, and it should have been just as precious to him," McDowell said in his ruling a year ago.

The couple had secretly married in a ceremony at the Washington County Courthouse three weeks before the slaying.

On Feb. 28, 1993, they were in a car west of Hagerstown when Whittington strangled Praetz during an argument. He drove the car into a tree off Pectonville Road and set fire to the car's interior in an attempt to make it look like she died in an accident, court records said.

"My first parole hearing will be next year and I can't wait," Whittington said in a 1997 telephone interview from the Roxbury Correctional Institution south of Hagerstown.

In 1996, a U.S. District Court judge in Baltimore awarded $3.5 million in wrongful death damages to the parents of Missy Praetz.

"I feel that I should have the judgment against me," Whittington said. "The Praetz family has been through so much because I acted like a child that night."

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