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Case against man accused in home invasion goes to Circuit Court

July 26, 2007|By PEPPER BALLARD

Probable cause was found Thursday to forward to Washington County Circuit Court felony charges that a Hagerstown man was involved in a July 1 apartment invasion in which one of the residents killed an intruder.

Michael John Watkins, 21, of 42 East Ave., faces 18 charges, including first-, third- and fourth-degree burglary and two counts each of attempted armed robbery and conspiracy to commit armed robbery in connection with the July 1 break-in at an apartment at 20320 Youngstoun Court.

During the 3:30 a.m. invasion, police have said intruder James Michael Conely, 32, was shot and stabbed to death by one of the apartment's female residents. After Conely forced his way into the apartment in search of drugs, he threatened the residents' lives with a shotgun, was fired upon and ultimately stabbed in the back before the young women escaped their home.

No charges have been filed against the residents, Michelle Reeder, 24, and Carri Humphrey, 22, whom Washington County State's Attorney Charles P. Strong Jr. said acted in self-defense.

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At the preliminary hearing on Thursday in District Court, Washington County Sheriff's Department Investigator Tara Bender testified that Humphrey identified Watkins as the man who knocked on her apartment door that morning.

Arguments from attorneys centered around Watkins' identification, which District Judge Mark D. Thomas said were arguments more appropriate for a suppression hearing. Bender, who is not the lead investigator in the case, testified she could not personally identify Watkins as the other intruder, but said the police report states that's who Humphrey identified as the other man.

"This is not a trial," Thomas said. "It's the state's only responsibility to show probable cause ... I believe the state has enough to show probable cause."

Before Thomas' ruling, Watkins' attorney, Assistant Public Defender Brian Hutchison, said neither of the women said Watkins was in the apartment, which he argued was a problem for probable cause.

"What's on the record for the burglary charges is at most a trespass," he said.

Thomas added there was evidence presented that he accompanied "a man with a shotgun" to the apartment.

"They did not say he was in the apartment ... We don't know who the other person is who went into the apartment, if anybody ..." Hutchison said.

Washington County Assistant State's Attorney Mark K. Boyer said during his argument, "This was the man (Watkins) who was at the door and was with the other man with the shotgun ... As far as the robbery charges go, the knock on the door, the planning of the event are sufficient steps ... He's on the premises."

Watkins told investigators that he and Conely were doing drugs at Conely's apartment when Conely suggested the pair rob the women, whom Conely believed had drugs, according to Bender's testimony and charging documents.

Watkins was taken into police custody after a deputy responding to the police call saw Watkins, a man "matching the description" of the other intruder, walking on Mount Aetna Road, not far from the scene, Bender testified.

Dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit, Watkins did not speak during the hearing, but flipped through his charging documents and other paperwork and muttered questions to his attorney.

Watkins was being held Thursday at the Washington County Detention Center on $500,000 bond, a jail spokeswoman said.

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