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Teen gets prison for murder solicitation

October 23, 2009|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN -- A 16-year-old Hagerstown girl will serve 10 years in prison for soliciting her father's murder, Washington County Circuit Judge M. Kenneth Long Jr. ordered Friday.

Danielle Black asked her friend, Matthew Gray, to kill her father, Billy Lee Black, during a fall 2008 conversation on a school bus, prosecutors said. Defense attorney Mary Drawbaugh has maintained the two were joking.

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.

Danielle Black was found guilty July 15 of solicitation of murder in her father's death.

Another man, Alec Scott Eger, 20, of 15 Berner Ave., is charged with first-degree murder and felony murder in Black's death. His trial is set to begin Feb. 1, 2010.

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Gray, 18, was compelled to testify in July 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, Gray testified.

In a conversation on the school bus about a month before Billy Black was killed, Danielle Black asked Gray if he would take care of her father, Gray testified. He didn't know she was serious, Gray said.

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.

Black's defense had argued before trial that Danielle Black's case should be handled in the juvenile system.

Black had been charged as a juvenile with solicitation of first-degree murder, but on Dec. 19, 2008, Washington County State's Attorney Charles Strong filed an information charging her with the same crime as an adult.

Initially charging Black as a juvenile was a mistake made by the state's attorney's office, Michael has said.

Conviction on a solicitation of first-degree murder charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Drawbaugh on Friday made a motion to have the judge re-evaluate the case and whether it should be sent to the juvenile system for sentencing.

Michael said he had been expecting such a motion and objected to it.

That portion of state law is applicable in cases that might be on the cusp between adult and juvenile jurisdiction. He did not believe Danielle Black's case fit such a description, Michael said.

Long denied the defense motion and proceeded to sentencing.

Billy Black's widow, Andrea Black, spoke on behalf of the family during the sentencing hearing. She spoke to Danielle Black.

"I miss my family that we had. I just want to know why you had to take that away," Andrea Black said.

Andrea Black was tearful throughout her statement.

"Your dad never abused you," Andrea Black said in regards to accusations that Danielle Black was abused by her father.

Danielle Black hated her father because he wouldn't let her do whatever she wanted, Andrea Black said.

The night before he was killed, Billy Black "hugged you and told you he loved you," Andrea Black said.

"I think you had your dad's life taken for no reason and for that, I think you should get life in prison," Andrea Black said.

Michael asked that Danielle Black be sentenced to life in prison.

"She is a thug, in with a bunch of thugs," Michael said.

Danielle Black admitted in a pre-sentence investigation that she lied about her father abusing her. Michael accused Black of assassinating her father's character.

He compared the situation to the Salem witch trials, calling that another situation in which the lies of young women resulted in deaths and the ruination of people's character.

The time Billy Black was killed, in the early morning as he was leaving for work, indicated that his daughter was feeding information to people, Michael said.

Danielle wanted her father dead because he was strict and because he was trying to help her by keeping her away from a certain group of people. Michael portrayed Danielle Black's group of friends as a gang.

Danielle Black indicated in the pre-sentence investigation that she never intended for her father to be murdered, Drawbaugh said during Friday's hearing.

While at the Washington County Detention Center, Black initially was held in protective custody because of her age and the nature of the crime, Drawbaugh said. Black since has been moved to the general population and participates in the GED program and other programs, Drawbaugh said.

Black has been a model inmate with no infractions, and her participation in programs shows Black is amenable to rehabilitation, Drawbaugh said.

Drawbaugh asked that Long consider a time-served sentence, as Black has been in custody since Dec. 10, 2008. If not time served, Drawbaugh suggested Black be sentenced to time in the detention center or to a limited sentence in prison.

In explaining his sentence, Long explained that whether Matthew Gray perceived his conversation with Black as a joke was irrelevant.

"Ms. Black did not kill her father, but nevertheless, wheels were put in motion," Long said. "The desire was there."

Long said it was "gratifying" to know Black is participating in programs at the jail.

After she serves her time in prison, Black will be on five years of supervised probation, the longest time he could impose, Long said.

"I think you have a lot of rehabilitation you need to do for yourself," Long told Black.

Long also ordered an evaluation to determine whether she has substance abuse issues and a psychological evaluation.

Danielle Black may have no contact with members of Billy Black's family, Long ordered at the request of prosecutors.

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