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Stanley murder trial begins

February 20, 2002

Stanley murder trial begins



By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI
kimy@herald-mail.com


A 76-year-old Clear Spring man, who died after being beaten so furiously that his teeth were knocked out, fought his attacker despite being partially paralyzed from a stroke, Washington County State's Attorney Kenneth Long said Tuesday.

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Saul Joseph Stanley, also known as Jeff Stanley, is being tried on a first-degree murder charge in the Dec. 5, 2000, death of William Leonard Messersmith at his National Pike home.

Long, in his opening statement, told the Washington County Circuit Court jury of eight women and four men that Stanley and his cousin, Liger Grady, went to Messersmith's home Dec. 5 to do paving work.

Grady previously had tarred Messersmith's roof and was aware that Messersmith "didn't like banks" and kept cash in his home, Long said.

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Long contended that Stanley and Messersmith struggled violently and Stanley was struck in the face. That blow enraged the 5-foot-11-inch, 175-pound Stanley, who knocked out four of Messersmith's teeth, choked him and broke his neck and ribs, Long told the jury.

Messersmith, who family members said was partially paralyzed from a stroke, was hit at least 10 times in the head, dragged to a rear hallway and left to die, Long said.

Defense attorney Stephen R. Tully reminded jurors that the prosecution's opening statement wasn't evidence and that burden of proof lies with Long and his co-counsel, Assistant State's Attorney Gina Circincion.

"The defendant sits in this court surrounded by a veil of innocence given to him by the court," Tully said in his opening statement.

Members of the jury should use their life experiences and common sense to weigh the evidence and testimony, Tully said.

Stanley, who has a hearing loss, used a hearing aid to listen to the opening statements and testimony.

Stanley's mother and several other family members were seated behind the defense table. About 10 members of Messersmith's family sat behind Long.

Long alleged that Stanley, 23, took Messersmith's life for his money.

Messersmith was known to keep money in a bag under a hassock in his home and at last count it held at least $40,000, Long said.

Stanley's DNA was found on a cigarette butt at the crime scene, and a neighbor saw two young men drive a pickup truck onto Messersmith's property Dec. 5 and remain there for several hours, Long said. At one point, one of the men stood on Messersmith's porch, smoked a cigarette and then flicked it into the yard, Long said.

Grady will testify that he saw part of the struggle between Stanley and Messersmith, Long said.

In August 2001, Grady turned himself in to police and subsequently pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in Messersmith's death. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Long said his office may recommend Grady's sentenced be reduced to 10 years if he continues to cooperate.

Tully attacked Grady's credibility and said the possibility of a reduced sentence would be enough reason for him to lie.

Messersmith's girlfriend, Mary Royce, testified that Messersmith visited her on the afternoon of Dec. 5 at her Hagerstown home.

She said she called Messersmith at his home at around 5 p.m. that day and he sounded upset.

Before hanging up, she heard an unidentified man's voice on the line and asked who it was. The man refused to identify himself but put Messersmith back on the line at Royce's request, she testified.

Messersmith told her to call back later, and that was the last she heard from him, she said.

Two days later, Royce testified, she entered Messersmith's ransacked home and found his body sprawled between a bedroom and a hallway, Royce said.

Maryland State Police Detective Sgt. Todd May testified that blood splotches were found throughout Messersmith's home and the phone cord was torn from the wall.

Members of Stanley's and Messersmith's families argued as they left the courtroom after Judge Kennedy Boone adjourned the proceedings for the day.

The group dispersed but began arguing again outside the main entrance to the courthouse, prompting court officials to call Hagerstown City Police to back up Washington County Sheriff's deputies working in the courthouse.

Testimony is scheduled to continue today.

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