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Man's murder sentence stands

March 24, 1999|By MARLO BARNHART

Convicted murderer Jeffrey Todd Whittington's hopes for post-conviction relief have been denied by a retired Washington County Circuit judge who discounted his claims of a secret sentencing agreement in the case.

Whittington, 25, is serving a 20-year sentence for the 1993 murder of Missy Praetz, his bride of three weeks.

In a 16-page ruling filed Tuesday, retired Judge Daniel W. Moylan said he didn't believe Whittington's contention that his sentence was to be reduced to 15 years as agreed in an earlier plea agreement.

Moylan in the ruling took Towson defense attorney Joseph Lyons to task for what he called "grossly misinforming" his client about the nature of that plea agreement.

Moylan ruled that a letter of Nov. 15, 1995, accurately reflected a binding plea agreement under which Whittington would get a 20-year sentence for second-degree murder and that after a year in prison, he would get a modification hearing.

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He got the hearing and the sentence wasn't reduced, court records said.

Whittington, through Lyons, said there was an unwritten agreement that the sentence was to be reduced to 15 years if Whittington served that first year in prison with no infractions.

Moylan said he would take steps to see that an investigation was done and that a complaint to the Attorney Grievance Commission about Lyons' conduct be considered.

Lyons, in a statement faxed Wednesday, said: "As a trial lawyer I often have considered the difficulty confronting any trier of fact seeking to determine truth from contradictory testimony. In this case, in reference to my own testimony, I know the fact-finder's determination was erroneous. This causes me concern and disappointment."

In February 1998, Whittington failed to win parole and the decision of Maryland Parole Commissioners Thomas V. Miller and Michael C. Blount was expected to keep Whittington in prison for at least 11 more years.

If he has no infractions while in prison, Whittington could be released no sooner than 2009, prison officials said in 1998.

He will have no more parole hearings.

A Washington County Circuit Court jury in October 1993 convicted him of second-degree murder and he was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

That conviction was overturned. Whittington later pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 20 years.

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

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

According to court records, a woman driving home on Pectonville Road spotted Whittington that night, running toward her car, waving for help, and holding a cigarette lighter.

Whittington claimed to have been in an accident and the woman went for help, returning with her husband after calling for an ambulance.

Whittington said he was injured, but did not mention his wife was in the car until a fire was spotted inside, court records said.

The next day, Whittington confessed to strangling Praetz during an argument, driving the car into a tree off Pectonville Road and lighting the car's interior in an attempt to make it look like she died in an accident, court records said.

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