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Teen found guilty of solicitation in father's murder

July 15, 2009|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN -- A jury Wednesday evening found a 16-year-old girl guilty of solicitation of murder in her father's October 2008 death.

Prosecutors said Danielle Black asked a friend, Matthew Gray, while the two were sitting on a school bus, to kill her father. Black's defense argued there wasn't enough evidence to support the solicitation charge.

The law required proof beyond "a group of children on a school bus talking about someone being taken care of," defense attorney Mary Drawbaugh said.

Billy Lee Black's body was found the morning of Oct. 31, 2008, in a pool of blood behind a house at 210 James St. in Hagerstown's West End.

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His widow, Andrea Black, testified against her stepdaughter Wednesday.

Testifying was hard, she said after the verdict was read.

"We were a family for five years and I loved her," she said.

Alec Scott Eger, 20, of 15 Berner Ave., is charged with first-degree murder and felony murder in Black's death. He is not the person prosecutors say Black asked to kill her father.

Eger's defense entered a not criminally responsible plea May 15 and he must undergo a mental evaluation before he can stand trial.

Other teenage witnesses testified against Danielle Black during a daylong trial Wednesday. The jury deliberated for about an hour and a half before the guilty verdict was announced.

At one point, the jury sent out a note saying they were deadlocked in a 10-2 vote. The judge told them to continue deliberating.

Ashleigh Schmid sat near Black in a Spanish class at South Hagerstown High School, and the girls were becoming friends, Ashleigh testified.

Black used to talk about her father beating her, and once showed Ashleigh a big bruise on one of her thighs, Ashleigh testified.

During a 10-minute conversation at a party held during Spanish class, Black told Ashleigh she was going to ask her friends to kill her father, Ashleigh testified. Black even discussed the plan, saying she would distract her stepmother at 5:55 p.m., then go outside and find her father dead, Ashleigh testified. Black didn't say who she was going to ask, the girl testified.

Ashleigh was concerned enough about her conversation with Black that she told her parents, then called the Black home shortly afterward. She didn't discuss it with police until after Billy Lee Black was found dead, she testified.

Sean Stanton, 16, often ate lunch with Black when the two were students at South Hagerstown High School. She would talk about her father "very often" and say her father abused her, Sean testified.

Almost every day, Black would say she wished her father wasn't alive, Sean testified.

On the bus one day, he heard Black saying her father went to work about 5 a.m.

Billy Lee Black's body was found about 6:45 a.m. last Halloween, The Herald-Mail reported.

Another friend of Danielle Black's, Samantha Holiday, 14, also testified Wednesday. The two used to ride the school bus together and hang out after school.

Black would talk about her father.

"He beat her ... she wanted him dead," Samantha testified.

Once, Black talked to Matthew Gray on the bus.

Gray took the stand to testify about that conversation. Gray was compelled to testify by a motion entered by Deputy State's Attorney Joseph Michael, who offered him immunity for testifying.

Danielle would talk about her father and how much hate she had for him, testified Gray, 18.

On the school bus, Black asked him if he would take care of her father, Gray testified. He didn't know she was serious, Gray said. The conversation happened about a month before Billy Lee Black died, Gray testified.

He jokingly responded "what do I get out of it," and then "just kinda let it go," Gray testified under questioning by both Drawbaugh and Michael.

Drawbaugh discussed Gray's description of the conversation in her closing arguments. He thought it was joking, she said. The tenor of the conversation was joking, not solicitation for murder, she said.

Billy Lee Black's widow testified about writings she found in her stepdaughter's room after his death. She gave the writings, which The Herald-Mail has written about, to the police.

Andrea Black also adamantly denied her husband abused Danielle Black.

"He felt guilty even for grounding her," she said.

Michael cited one of the writings, which appears to be a conciliatory note from Black to her father, in his closing arguments. The girl wrote about calling her people off and her father apologizing for all that he did.

"You can't call off your people if you didn't call them on," Michael told the jury in an attempt to show solicitation.

Washington County Circuit Judge M. Kenneth Long Jr. ordered a pre-sentence investigation be completed before Black is sentenced. She remains in custody at the Washington County Detention Center.

Sentencing should be in about two months, Long said.

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