Hagerstown man to testify for panel on death penalty

August 04, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN -- The date of the first meeting of the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment - July 28 - had a separate significance for Marty Price of Hagerstown.

The meeting was held exactly 20 years after Mervil Leon Price Jr., Marty Price's father, murdered his wife and teenage stepdaughter.

The meeting also was about seven months after another homicide that touched Marty Price's life.

His nephew, Christopher Nicholson, was shot and killed on Dec. 19, 2007, while on duty as a police officer in Smithsburg.

Douglas Wayne Pryor, 29, of Smithsburg, is charged with murdering Nicholson.

Price will tell his story in front of an appointed commission studying aspects of Maryland's death penalty, particularly whether there should be one.


When he testifies in Annapolis on Tuesday, he'll share his thoughts about having both a relative who has murdered and relatives who were killed.

Unlike people who have lobbied elected officials one way or the other on capital punishment, Price will not.

"My position is, 'Marty, give us insight to both sides ...,'" he said. "I don't think I've been called to give an opinion."

The crime he knows best was committed by his father.

A jury convicted Mervil Price of two counts of second-degree murder for fatally shooting his wife, Betty Jane Price, and his 15-year-old stepdaughter, Sherri Lynn Unger, in the head in their Hickory Lane townhouse.

He then told Marty Price, who drove his father to the police station before returning to the town house to identify the bodies.

"The memory of that bedroom is something I will never forget," Marty Price wrote in a statement for the death penalty commission. "I remember staring at them both in disbelief, shock and sadness. I didn't want to believe that my father had followed through on one of his death threats."

Mervil Price, 71, who was sentenced to 60 years in prison, is at Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown.

Marty Price, 45, considers himself a private person who has kept an upbeat public demeanor with the help of 14 years of counseling.

He said the horrors of his life are vivid decades later - the violence in his home when he grew up, the guilt of testifying against his father.

When the death penalty commission was announced, Price applied to be on it. Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, and Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, nominated him.

Donoghue said some people thought it would be better not to have Price on the commission while Pryor's case is pending.

Instead, Price was asked to attend the commission's meetings as an observer and to speak at one.

"I do think his story needs to be heard," Donoghue said.

Price is working on a book about his experiences, but speaking to the commission will be different. He credited his daughters' encouragement with helping him to go public.

"I need to set my privacy aside so I can help others," he said.

Marty Price's testimony

Excerpts from written testimony Marty Price of Hagerstown prepared for the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment

At a memorial service for his nephew, Christopher Nicholson, a Smithsburg police officer killed while on duty: "The next thing I knew, that wave of grief and guilt was overwhelming me again .... The pain is one I cannot describe. The emotion is so deep, it physically hurts. Being the son of a convicted murderer, the pain is a hopeless, embarrassed, what-can-I-do feeling."

"I was 23 years old when my father committed his heinous act of violence and it initially left me with many questions of why. But, I can also attest that my father's violence is directly related to the inner strength ... that developed in me across the years. As strange as it sounds, his anger taught me perseverance; his lack of self-control taught me the value of self-discipline ... and, his hatred taught me to love."

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