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Allegation stalls trial in slaying of woman

September 22, 2005|by Pepper Ballard

HAGERSTOWN

pepperb@herald-mail.com

A Hagerstown woman was taken by police to the Washington County Office of the Public Defender for questioning Wednesday afternoon about her 11th-hour allegation that another woman killed Mary Elizabeth Williams on Feb. 8.

The claim stalled the trial of the man charged in Williams' death and kept the jury sequestered for much of the shortened day.

After numerous interruptions surrounding the woman's allegation, the prosecution rested its case against Ricky Rinaldo Stallings Jr., 24, who is charged with first-degree murder and other offenses in Williams' shooting death.

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Williams, 34, was shot through the window of her boyfriend's car as she was being picked up for work Feb. 8 at about 7:50 a.m. outside her 13915 Maugansville Road home.

The trial was expected to wrap up today with the defense's case, postponed until this morning so Stallings' attorneys could investigate the allegation, and closing arguments.

Before the jury was brought into the courtroom Wednesday for the third day of Stallings' trial, Assistant State's Attorney Robert Veil disclosed to Stallings' defense attorneys and Circuit Judge W. Kennedy Boone III that a woman named Cherry Bridges, whom he said has "no credibility," alleged Tuesday that another woman killed Williams during "a robbery gone bad," in which Stallings was involved but "did not pull the trigger."

The announcement prompted Stallings' attorneys to request more time, through various motions, to investigate the claim. After the alleged female shooter denied any involvement to Sheriff's Department investigators who were sent out to interview her, Boone ordered police to find Bridges and take her to either the defense attorneys' office or the Washington County Detention Center so she could be questioned about her allegation. Boone did not call for her arrest.

Sheriff's Department Investigator Gregory Alton testified, out of the presence of the jury, that Bridges came to the Washington County Courthouse Tuesday between 3:30 and 4 p.m. and spoke to a deputy. Bridges allegedly said she read in the newspaper that the prosecution intends to seek a life sentence without the possibility of parole if Stallings is convicted and didn't "think he should spend the rest of his life" in prison for something he didn't do, Alton testified.

Bridges said the woman she alleges shot Williams disclosed the information to Bridges' boyfriend when she visited him in jail, Alton testified. Alton, the lead investigator in the case, testified he knows the woman Bridges alleged did the shooting "was an acquaintance" of Stallings.

After Alton's testimony, Assistant Public Defender Brian Hutchison asked for a mistrial, which Boone immediately denied.

After a lunch recess, five Sheriff's Department investigators arrived in court and met privately with attorneys from both sides. Veil relayed, out of the presence of the jury, that investigators spoke with the woman Bridges alleged shot Williams and the woman's boyfriend, both of whom denied any involvement in the shooting.

"There seems to be some sort of a love triangle there," Veil said.

After Boone granted motions for acquittal on three counts - a duplicate reckless endangerment charge and two firearm transporting charges - Hutchison and Assistant Public Defender Eric Reed asked for more time to check into Bridges' claim. They said their office is short-staffed and an investigator called in from their Frederick, Md., office needed more time.

Mistrial motions



Hutchison made motions for a mistrial, a continuance or an extended recess. Boone, after allowing the attorneys a few minutes to discuss their options, allowed them to wait to present their case until this morning, dismissing the jury of five men and seven women about two hours early. Two female alternates also have been hearing the case.

Stallings' wife, Amanda Stallings, gave a brief but highly emotional testimony. Sobbing as she walked to and from the witness stand, Amanda Stallings blurted out the answers to only a few questions.

Her lips tight in a frown and trying to hold back tears, Amanda Stallings testified she saw her husband at about 9:30 p.m. on Feb. 7, but didn't see him through the night or the morning of the shooting.

When Washington County Assistant State's Attorney Viki Pauler asked, "Did you ever see your husband with a gun?" she blurted out, 'Yes,' and broke into tears. Stallings' defense attorneys immediately objected, and after a conference at the bench, the question was struck from the record. Boone told the jury to ignore it because no time frame was given.

Pauler stopped her questioning.

When Stallings' attorneys were asked if they had any questions on cross-examination, they conferred. Stallings, who has been taking notes throughout the trial and whispering in his attorneys' ears during nearly every witness' testimony, waived a straightened hand back and forth in front of his neck. His attorneys didn't ask any questions.

The trial was to resume today at 9 a.m. with the defense's case. L. Richard Williams, Mary Williams' estranged husband and Stallings' uncle, was expected to testify.

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