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Hagerstown man convicted of second-degree murder in stabbing death of roommate

April 27, 2012|By DON AINES | dona@herald-mail.com

A Hagerstown man faces a sentence of up to 30 years in prison after a Washington County Circuit Court jury convicted him of second-degree murder in the 2011 stabbing death of his roommate, whose decomposing body was found in their apartment.

Darrell Hicks, 54, formerly of 211 W. Franklin St., showed no reaction as the forewoman announced that the jury had found him not guilty of first-degree premeditated murder. She then announced that he was guilty of second-degree murder and another charge of carrying a dangerous weapon with intent to cause injury.

Judge Daniel P. Dwyer said he would order a presentence investigation and that Hicks would be sentenced at a later date.

The body of Darrin Pressman, 45, was found by his girlfriend lying partially in the closet of his bedroom on June 3, 2011. Maryland Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Jack Titus testified during the three-day trial that Pressman had six stab wound to his torso and had probably been dead three to five days before the body was discovered.

Hicks and Pressman had gotten into a dispute on May 29, 2011, and Pressman told girlfriend Karen Haws that he planned to move out of the apartment, Assistant State’s Attorney Leon Debes told the jury in his closing argument.

“Darrell got angry. Darrell got mad,” and stabbed Pressman as he opened the door that joined his bedroom to the rest of the apartment, Debes said. Pressman must have known his attacker or been ambushed by Hicks because he had no defensive wounds. Debes said.

Hicks lied to Haws about where Pressman was, telling her and later the police that he had given Pressman $800 and he had gone on a drinking spree to Baltimore or Williamsport, Debes said.

While Haws became hysterical and physically ill when she discovered the body, Debes noted another witness testified Hicks was sitting on his bed folding laundry after the body was discovered.

There was also no sign of forced entry to the apartment and nothing of value missing, making robbery or burglary unlikely, Debes argued.

“To be blunt, this case stinks,” Assistant Public Defender Loren Villa told the jury. She was referring to the odor witnesses testified they smelled before and after the body was discovered.

“Just because the apartment smelled does not mean Doc (Hicks’ nickname) killed Darrin Pressman,” Villa said.

Losing a roommate and Pressman’s contribution to the rent would not be a motive to kill, she said. How a person reacts to a traumatic event also differs from one person to another, she said.

Hicks also told police on the day the body was found that he had allergies, burned incense and that he thought the smell might have been coming from another apartment, Villa said.

Villa also attacked the state’s evidence, including blood in the doorway between Pressman’s and Hicks’ rooms, which was not tested for DNA, or to determine if it was human or animal blood.

Pressman’s autopsy showed his blood alcohol level was four times the legal limit for intoxication, but crime scene photos only showed one can of beer in his room, Villa said.

Pressman could have gone out in the days before the body was found, taken someone back to the room and been murdered and robbed by that person, Villa said.

“I feel relieved. I feel justice has been done and that he can’t hurt anyone else,” Haws said after the verdict. “I’m glad that his family has some kind of relief.”

A conviction on the most serious charge, first-degree murder, could have resulted in a sentence of life in prison for Hicks.

When Hicks was taken into custody on June 3, 2011, he purportedly confessed to killing Pressman toward the end of a police interview lasting nearly nine hours. However, the statement was suppressed by Dwyer, who ruled in December that police continued questioning Hicks after he had invoked his right to remain silent.

“Fortunately, in this case (the jury) found an acknowledged killer guilty and he’ll be off the street for a long time,” said Assistant State’s Attorney Brett Wilson, who prosecuted the case with Debes.

In 2009, Hicks pleaded guilty to robbery in Anne Arundel County and was given a five-year sentence prison with all suspended except about seven months of time served, according to court records. At the time, Hicks was ordered to attend an in-patient drug treatment program in Hagerstown, court records said.

“Perhaps if he had been incarcerated for the bank robbery he committed a few years ago in Anne Arundel County we wouldn’t have this issue right now,” Wilson said.

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