An Arbutus woman who won an appeal to a 2009 jury decision finding her guilty of first-degree murder for the stabbing death of an Arbutus man in 2008 has taken a plea deal in her reopened case to a lesser charge of second-degree murder.
Under what is known as an "Alford plea," Sharon Elizabeth "Beth" Grimes, now 28, did not admit guilt in the crime, but accepted state prosecutors' offer of the lesser charge in order to avoid a potentially greater charge during another trial.
Grimes won't be sentenced under the new plea arrangement until May. She will likely end up serving less time in prison under the new deal than she would have under her previous sentence.
In 2009, Baltimore County Circuit Judge Robert E. Cahill Jr. sentenced Grimes to life in prison for the murder of Robert Arthur "Bunky" Silver, 48, with all but 15 years of the sentence suspended.
Under Maryland law, Grimes was not eligible for parole during those 15 years, and would have to serve the entire time behind bars. She was also required to serve three years of supervised probation upon her release.
Grimes appealed the case, and in early 2011, an appeals court reversed the convictions and remanded the case back to the circuit court.
Circuit Judge Patrick Cavanaugh will now determine Grimes' sentence under the new plea arrangement, to which Grimes agreed on March 7. State prosecutors have asked for a 30-year sentence, with all but 15 years suspended. Under that sentence, Grimes could be eligible for parole in less than eight years, or half the time of the unsuspended sentence.
As the case remains open pending Grimes' sentencing in May, Grimes' attorney, Kathleen Sheehy, declined to comment on the case.
But barring disagreements between Sheehy and prosecutors over the terms of the agreement, or a sentencing from Cavanaugh that Sheehy doesn't accept, Grimes' sentencing in May could mark the end of years of court battles in the case.
'Frozen' in fear
In the early morning hours of Nov. 4, 2008, the 25-year-old former Arbutus Athletic Association Golden Eagles cheerleader slept in her red sports car outside her home in the 5500 block of Carville Avenue in Arbutus after a night she would later describe as terrifying.
Her boyfriend at the time, 23-year-old Robert James Matthews, of Windsor Mill, slept in the seat next to her.
Two miles away, Silver, of the 1100 block of Gloria Avenue in Arbutus, had been found by police in the middle of Maiden Choice Lane with 69 stab wounds, and would soon die. His blood stained the passenger side of Grimes' car. Police, following tips from witnesses, were on their way.
Grimes and Matthews awoke not only to police surrounding them, but to charges of murder and to years of court battles over a killing Cahill would later call "horrible" and "brutal."
Prosecutors have long said Matthews, who just turned 27 on March 5, was the one who actually stabbed Silver. He took an Alford plea himself in 2010, and was sentenced to life in prison, with all but 60 years suspended, and five years of supervised probation upon his release, according to court records.
His case remains tied up in the court system.
In taking Alford pleas, both Grimes and Matthews kept open their rights of appeal.
Grimes had long pleaded not guilty in the case, saying she had "frozen" in fear as she watched Matthews, her boyfriend of just three weeks, stab Silver before getting back in her car. She said her role was based solely on her own debilitating fear of Matthews.
Prosecutors have said Grimes and Matthews met Silver earlier in the night at the Center Court tavern in Arbutus, and drove together toward Maiden Choice, where the two men planned to smoke crack cocaine.
What happened then, and what led Silver to run down the street away from the couple until Grimes allegedly hit him with her car, prosecutors said in 2009, remained unclear.
Grimes maintained her innocence before a Baltimore County jury. She was found guilty of first-degree murder and being an accessory to the murder after the fact on May 26, 2009.
At her sentencing for those convictions on Aug. 25, 2009, during which relatives of Silver gave emotional statements about their loss, Grimes said she still had "flashbacks" of the morning of the murder, and was wracked by violent seizures in the Baltimore County Detention Center, where she was being held.
"I can see (Matthews). I can hear him," Grimes said during the sentencing hearing. "I've sworn a couple times that he's in the cell."
Cahill explicitly rejected Grimes' version of the events during the hearing, as had prosecutors earlier in the case, who'd said Grimes had been angry and indifferent about the murder when first interviewed by police.
At the time, Cahill said Grimes' unwillingness to "acknowledge active participation" in the killing would be a factor in his sentencing.
"There is no doubt in my mind that there was something more than just a 'freezing' or 'extreme terror,' " Cahill said, before sentencing Grimes.
Grimes is scheduled to be sentenced under the new plea agreement on May 22.