A Fallston man found guilty last last week of second-degree murder and a handgun violation in the 2016 shooting death of his wife could face up to 50 years in prison once he is sentenced, which might not happen for several weeks, a prosecutors said.
Ricardo Muscolino avoided a more serious penalty when the Harford County Circuit Court jury found him not guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Lara Muscolino, 48, who was fatally shot in the master bedroom of couple’s Fallston home on the evening of Aug. 31, 2016.
After deliberating more than five hours on the afternoon and evening of Nov. 2, the eight-woman, four-man jury returned a not guilty verdict on a first-degree murder charge, but guilty on second-degree murder and use of a handgun in a felony, according to Assistant State’s Attorney Emma Goerlich, who prosecuted the case with Deputy State’s Attorney Diana Brooks.
After the verdict was announced, Muscolino, 55, was taken into police custody. He had been free on $1 million bond, according to court records.
“We are pleased,” Goerlich said in a text message.
In an interview Monday, Brooks expressed some disappointment that the jury did not find Muscolino guilty of first-degree murder, saying the prosecutors “believe we presented more than enough evidence that there was premeditation.”
First-degree murder is defined in state law as "a deliberate, premeditated, and willful killing,” and a person convicted of the charge faces a possible sentence of life in prison.
“We respect their decision and their verdict,” Brooks said.
A sentencing hearing might not happen until mid-January, as the state’s Division of Parole and Probation must complete its pre-sentence investigation, Brooks said.
A person convicted of second-degree murder faces a maximum sentence of 30 years and a person convicted of using a firearm in the commission of a violent crime faces a sentence of five to 20 years, according to state law.
Prosecutors will remain in touch with Lara Muscolino’s family, and relatives will be able to make victim impact statements during the sentencing hearing, Brooks said.
Brooks said parole and probation officials review a defendant’s background, criminal record, work record and health information during a pre-sentence investigation.
Their work is “another source of information for the judge, so she’ll get the whole picture before she makes a decision,” Brooks said.
Brooks expects Muscolino will remain in the Harford County Detention Center until his sentencing hearing.
She said judges often take into consideration issues such as a conviction for a violent crime and the prospect of significant prison time — both issues in Muscolino’s case — when remanding a defendant to law enforcement custody pending sentencing.
“Once they’re found guilty, the landscape changes,” Brooks said. “He’s not presumed innocent anymore.”
The jury’s verdict wrapped up the nine-day trial before Judge Yolanda Curtin. As of Monday afternoon, a sentencing date had not been set.
The courtroom proceedings lasted less than 10 minutes after the jury returned shortly after 8:50 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 2.
Curtin thanked the jurors for their service, and she asked prosecutors if they wanted to proceed with sentencing immediately.
Brooks declined, telling the judge the state needed time before presenting its case for sentencing. It was then that she asked that Muscolino be remanded to the custody of law enforcement.
Defense attorney Kenneth Ravenell objected, saying Muscolino has been on electronic home monitoring and complied with the conditions of his release. Ravenell said there is “no reason why he wouldn’t appear” for further court proceedings.
Curtin disagreed and ordered Muscolino’s pretrial release revoked, considering the severity of the crimes of which he had just been convicted.
The defendant, who was wearing a dark gray suit, stood as two Harford County Sheriff’s Office deputies handcuffed him and led him out of the courtroom.
Lara Muscolino’s sister, Tanya Crockett, of Anne Arundel County, and her 18-year-old niece, Zoe, were among the small group of spectators in the courtroom when the verdict was read.
They tearfully embraced Brooks and Goerlich. The Crocketts also hugged and thanked several jurors outside the courtroom.
A few of the jurors were in tears as they talked with Muscolino’s other defense attorney, William H. Murphy Jr., of Baltimore, about how they reached a verdict.
They cited the challenges to the state’s case that he had presented during the trial, with one woman juror telling Murphy, “you gave us a lot to think about.”
In the end, it came down to the “five shots” Muscolino was accused of firing that killed his wife, according to the jurors. The shots, four of which hit Lara Muscolino, were fired from a 9mm Glock handgun that was found in a clothes hamper, according to testimony during the trial.
“I appreciate your service,” Murphy told the jurors.
Reached by telephone on Friday, Murphy declined to comment on the case or the verdict.
Tanya Crockett said she was not surprised by the jury’s findings.
“I’m not surprised, because they don’t know [Muscolino] like we know him,” she said. “And that’s OK,” Zoe Crockett, her daughter, added.
When she heard her sister had been killed, Tanya Crockett said, her first thought was that “Ricardo had something to do with it.”
She and her daughter described a history of alleged mistreatment by Muscolino toward his wife and their three children.
“We understand that the jury could only make their decision based on the information they were given,” Tanya Crockett said.
In the time Muscolino was pointing a gun at his wife he made a decision to kill her, Brooks told the jury in her summation.
He could have changed his mind but he didn’t, Brooks said.
“When Lara Muscolino said ‘Don’t point that at me,’ that was when he knew, or should have known, to put the gun down,” Brooks told the jury. “But he kept pointing it at her even when she told him not to.”
Ravenell had argued that the state couldn’t prove what happened in the couple’s bedroom, nor could it prove intent on the defendant’s part to harm his wife.
Both the prosecution and the defense acknowledged that on the day of the fatal shooting, Ricardo Muscolino had found out from the couple’s eldest daughter, 15, that Lara Muscolino was having an affair.
Muscolino did not testify in his own defense.