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Former Hagerstown man involved in police standoff found guilty

Judge orders presentencing report be completed prior to sentencing Neil LaPine

October 19, 2012|By DON AINES | dona@herald-mail.com
  • Neil LaPine is led to a police cruiser by Hagerstown City Police Sgt. John Lehman after he barricaded himself inside a Little Hayden Circle home on Friday.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

Neil LaPine testified he fired a handgun just once - and by accident - during a May 18 stand-off with police, but a Washington County Circuit Court jury deliberated just 70 minutes on Friday before finding him guilty on three counts of first-degree assault.

LaPine, 49, formerly of 12962 Little Hayden Circle in Hagerstown, was also convicted of three counts of reckless endangerment and one count each of use of a handgun in a crime of violence and discharging a firearm within city limits, court records said.

Judge Donald E. Beachley ordered a presentence report be completed prior to sentencing, court records said.

Each count of first-degree assault carries a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison. Use of a firearm in a crime of violence carries a mandatory minimum of five years in prison and a maximum of 20 years.

Hagerstown police had gone to LaPine’s house near Leitersburg Pike on May 18 after a relative reported that he might be suicidal. During the three-hour standoff, the Washington County Special Response Team was called in and a negotiator convinced LaPine to come out of the house.

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Officers testified during the trial, which began Thursday, that LaPine did not comply with orders from police when he came out of the house. One officer testified he fired a non-lethal 40- millimeter round at LaPine in an effort to keep him from going back into the house.

However, LaPine was able to get back inside the house and, as four members of the Special Response Team were approaching his front door, a shot was fired through it, according to trial testimony.

LaPine testified Thursday that, after being hit, he went back into the house, barricaded the door with two chairs and picked up a 9-millimeter handgun.

LaPine testified he was walking backwards when he tripped on a rug and his finger “tensed” on the trigger, causing it to fire.

“This is the crux of the whole case: Did he intentionally fire a shot?” defense attorney John Salvatore told the jury in his closing argument. “This is a man who was contemplating suicide ... He had no interest in shooting the police.”

“The defendant intended to put that bullet through the door,” Deputy State’s Attorney Joseph Michael said in his closing statement. LaPine demonstrated his presence of mind by barricading the door in his belief that the police would rush the front entrance, Michael said.

Police officers testified they heard a shot fired within the house earlier in the standoff, something LaPine denied happened.

Salvatore told the jury that the officers were mistaken about that first shot and there was no shell casing or bullet hole found inside to substantiate that it happened.

The incident did not get the type of exhaustive forensic search of a more serious crime might warrant, Michael said. LaPine also had plenty of time to hide the missing shell casing before he surrendered, Michael said.

Before the jury began deliberations, Beachley granted a motion for judgment of acquittal on the  assault and reckless endangerment charges involving one of the four Special Response Team officers, Michael said after the verdict.

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