For years, the Koontz family — Ron, Mary and their daughter, Kelsey — was a "pretty close-knit" group. Mary Koontz made "awesome sandwiches" for her husband and welcomed her daughter's friends into their "quiet suburban home," Kelsey, now 17, said in court Wednesday.
"I could see the love between my parents," Kelsey Koontz said. "My childhood was fine. It was awesome."
But in a few short years, she went on, the family's harmony dissolved into mistrust and recriminations, her parents separated, and Mary Koontz went to live in Florida. A year ago, after being gone for 19 months, she returned with a silver revolver and sneaked into her former home in Glen Arm while her estranged husband and daughter slept, prosecutors say. Once inside, they say, she shot her husband four times as he lay in bed and then went into Kelsey's room and fired at the girl. The bullet missed its mark.
During the first day of testimony in Mary C. Koontz's trial in Baltimore County Circuit Court, where she faces charges of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and five other counts, the 60-year-old defendant occasionally dabbed at her eyes and nose with a tissue as her daughter sat in the witness box a few feet away and described the family's dissolution.
The worst of it began, she said, when she entered the 7th grade, got involved with a soccer league, made new friends and started spending a lot of time away from home. Her father accompanied her to matches, she said, and her mother did not. Gradually, Kelsey told the jury, her mother felt more and more alienated from her husband and daughter, both socially and emotionally, and devoted much of her time to a son from a previous marriage who had been diagnosed with an emotional disorder.
"She'd get mad at me for putting so much into soccer," Kelsey said. There was anger and tension, she said, and it spilled into everyday life. "She called me a brat and a terrible daughter."
Later, after her parents' separation, Mary Koontz called her daughter and estranged husband repeatedly, and often abusively, from the family's condominium on Marco Island. In one invective-filled voice-mail message, played Wednesday for the jury, the defendant told her daughter that Ron Koontz had abused her sexually as a child, and suggested that father and daughter were in an intimate relationship now that she was no longer around.
"Your father can't control his urges," the defendant told Kelsey during the call, 11 days before the fatal shooting of her husband, a former teacher and wrestling coach at Towson High School who later became an administrator in the Baltimore County school system.
"You win," Mary Koontz went on in the phone message. "You have my husband, you have my dog."
No such sexual abuse or intimacy ever occurred, Kelsey said, and it was "disgusting" to think otherwise.
Richard M. Karceski, the defense attorney, recalled on cross-examination that, shortly after his client's arrest on June 19, 2009, Kelsey Koontz said she "hated" her mother.
"She had just shot my dad and tried to kill me," the witness replied, her eyes filling with tears.
"Do you hate her now?" Karceski asked.
"That's a really complex question," she responded. "How do you define hate?"
Karceski, who made clear his intent to portray his client as legally insane, tried to get the witness to define another word — "crazy" — and suggested that Mary Koontz "wasn't altogether running on all cylinders."
"If you're asking me, do I think my mom knew what she was doing, I'd say yes," Kelsey replied. "There's something wrong with my mom, but I think that you can have a mental disability and still know what you're doing."
The defense attorney brought up instances in which the girl mentioned that her mother was mentally ill and needed help. Karceski asked Kelsey why she no longer felt that way.
"I don't think there there's any help to fix what she has," Kelsey replied.
Earlier, in his opening remarks, the defense attorney compared his client to John W. Hinckley Jr., who shot President Ronald Reagan on March 30, 1981. Karceski reminded the jury that Hinckley's act was a misguided attempt to woo the actress Jodie Foster, a factor that led to his being declared not guilty by reason of insanity.
Mary Koontz's act was of a similar order, Karceski said. Both shootings, he went on, were prompted by irrational acts of love.
"This is what we have here," he said. "A love story."