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Md. appeals court affirms Stanley murder conviction

April 18, 2003|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals has affirmed the murder conviction and life sentence of Saul Joseph "Jeff" Stanley for the December 2000 murder of William Leonard Messersmith in his Clear Spring-area home.

Attorneys for Stanley have further appealed the decision to the Maryland Court of Appeals by way of a writ of certiorari to the state's highest court, Assistant Washington County State's Attorney Gina Cirincion said Wednesday.

In his initial appeal, Stanley raised the issues of whether the testimony of his accomplice was sufficiently corroborated and whether the court erred in denying his motion for a continuance of his trial.

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The higher court quickly denied the motion regarding the continuance, saying Stanley's assertions that he didn't have enough time to prepare a defense to refute the state's evidence weren't sufficient.

Since a defendant may not be convicted solely on the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice, the higher court reviewed the evidence provided at trial in addition to that testimony.

The higher court pointed to supportive testimony of a neighbor who saw two men at Messersmith's house, cigarette butts found at the scene and a gas station receipt dated on the day of the murder and containing Stanley's fingerprints.

On March 25, 2002, Stanley was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

Washington County Circuit Judge Kennedy Boone was required by law to sentence Stanley, then 24, to life in prison. Boone was free to choose whether to make parole a possibility.

Boone said during the sentencing hearing that he considered a pre-sentence report, written statements by Messersmith's family, Stanley's age and criminal record, and other factors.

After the hearing, Stephen Tully, a Baltimore attorney representing Stanley, filed the first appeal - the one denied in mid-February. Unpublished, the decision was received just this week in the chambers of Washington County Circuit Judge Fred Wright.

In a telephone interview after the sentencing last year, Tully said Stanley was "disappointed about the sentence, but optimistic about the appeal."

Authorities said Messersmith, 76, was killed at his home west of Clear Spring after a violent struggle on Dec. 5, 2000.

Stanley and Liger Grady, both of Martinsburg, W.Va., talked Messersmith into hiring them to tar his driveway. They arrived that December day to do the work.

After Messersmith took out a bag containing about $40,000, Grady acted as a lookout while Stanley beat Messersmith, Grady testified earlier in 2002 at Stanley's trial.

Grady pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in August 2001 and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. His sentence was cut to 10 years in exchange for his testimony in the Stanley trial.




Staff writer Andrew Schotz contributed to this story.

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