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Judge hears several motions related to Eger's murder trial

December 28, 2009|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN -- A Washington County Circuit judge on Monday heard several motions, mostly from the defense, related to the upcoming first-degree murder trial of Alec Scott Eger.

Eger, 20, whose last known address was 15 Berner Ave., was charged with first-degree murder and felony murder in the Oct. 31, 2008, stabbing death of Billy Lee Black. Eger's trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 1. He was being held Monday night at the Washington County Detention Center.

The first defense motion heard Monday was a request that Washington County Assistant State's Attorney Gina Cirincion, the lead prosecutor, be recused from the case.

Deputy State's Attorney Joseph Michael argued against that motion for the defense.

Cirincion is the former wife of Assistant Public Defender Jerry Joyce, who represents Eger.

Stefanie McArdle, deputy division chief for the Office of the Public Defender's Aggravated Homicide Division, handled arguments for the defense.

Circuit Judge Daniel P. Dwyer heard extensive testimony from Joyce and rebuttal testimony from Cirincion regarding personal issues.

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Following a short recess, Dwyer denied the defense motion to recuse Cirincion.

She went on to handle the rest of the day's proceedings.

McArdle also argued for the defense's next motion, which called for an individualized voir dire, in which each prospective juror would be questioned separately.

Another case related to Black's death, the trial of his daughter on a charge of soliciting his murder, engendered a lot of publicity, McArdle said.

Danielle Black, 16, was sentenced to life in prison with all but 10 years suspended after a jury found her guilty July 15 of solicitation of murder in her father's death.

Eger was not the person Black asked to kill her father.

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

McArdle on Monday argued that during jury selection, attorneys would be more likely to get honest discourse from jurors if each juror was questioned separately about his or her knowledge of the case.

Cirincion countered that individual questioning hadn't been done in the 15 years of her prosecuting cases in Washington County, even during some "fairly notorious homicides," she said.

"There's never been a problem with the way we do business here," Cirincion said.

Dwyer agreed, and denied the motion to individually question each potential juror. He said, however, that if either side wanted additional, case-specific questions asked during the routine voir dire, the attorneys should submit them by Jan. 15.

The defense also argued for a motion to strike the state's notice of intent to seek life without parole should Eger be convicted of first-degree murder.

Citing prior case law, McArdle argued that the statute allowing for a judge to impose the life-without-parole sentence is unconstitutional. The enhanced sentence should be a question left to the jury to find necessary beyond a reasonable doubt, she said.

Cirincion argued that many cases, such as drug cases, may face enhanced sentencing imposed by a judge.

Life without parole has been found a constitutional punishment by the Supreme Court, she said.

Dwyer agreed, saying he didn't find the possibility of a life-without-parole sentence to violate the Constitution or the Maryland Declaration of Rights.

The judge heard arguments regarding several other motions -- including motions by the state, which wanted to prevent testimony by witnesses who would attack Billy Black's character with allegations of abuse. Dwyer said he would rule in the coming days.

Much discussion centered on Eger's possible motivation.

Joyce said Eger believed Danielle Black was being beaten.

"The state doesn't dispute that his motivation was to save Danielle from her father," Cirincion said.

Danielle Black has retracted abuse allegations against her father, Cirincion said. Any further discussion about the allegations, other than what Eger would cite as his motivation, would be "baseless allegations against a man who cannot defend himself," she said.

Another pretrial motions hearing is set for Jan. 20.

The body of Billy Lee Black, 47, was found in a pool of blood on the morning of Oct. 31, 2008, in the backyard of a house in Hagerstown's West End.

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