A Hampstead man charged with murder after allegedly setting his house on fire with his wife inside appeared in court Tuesday to go over pre-trial motions.
Robert Schech Sr., 70, of the 2600 block of the Hoffman Mill Road, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder, one of which is murder in the commission of a felony, a count of first-degree arson and a count of first-degree malicious burning, according to electronic court records.
According to the joint investigation between the Carroll County Sheriff's Office and Office of the State Fire Marshal, Schech allegedly set multiple fires in his house last November in such a way that his wife, Donna Marie Schech, 55, could not get out of the house.
Donna Schech perished in the fire of heat- and smoke-related injuries, according to the Sheriff's Office. She was 55.
Robert Schech is scheduled to begin a jury trial on Aug. 31, and on Tuesday, presiding Judge Thomas Stansfield heard concerns from the defense in an attempt to make the trial proceedings run more smoothly. One of the concerns involved the judge himself, as Stansfield's wife has a connection to the case, Stansfield said in court.
The judge asked if the attorneys, Chief Deputy State's Attorney Jason League and Senior Assistant State's Attorney Melissa Hockensmith for the state; and Haven Shoemaker, who is also a Carroll County delegate to the General Assembly, and Joseph Murtha for the defense, wanted him to recuse himself from the case, but neither side requested a different judge.
Jury selection is scheduled to be done Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, but it is unclear whether a jury will be needed for the case. Stansfield told Murtha that Schech has until the day before the trial is scheduled to be begin to decide if he wants to have a trial before a jury or a judge.
Robert Schech was arrested Dec. 16, 2016, approximately a month after Donna Schech died in the fire. He has been held without bail since his arrest, according to electronic court records.
Firefighters were called to the Schech residence on Nov. 13, 2016, where they found the house engulfed by flames. It took approximately 30 minutes for the firefighters to control the blaze.
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Schech was also injured in the fire and was transported to Johns Hopkins Bayview Burn Center after flagging down a passerby and alerting them to the fire. The potential testimony of the doctor who treated Schech was discussed Tuesday, as Murtha raised concerns about the doctor testifying to Schech's truthfulness when talking about his injuries. Stansfield said he was going to defer his decision on the matter until the problem arose in court.
Investigators suspected multiple fires were set because the investigation showed it had multiple points of origin, rather than spreading from one point, Deputy State Fire Marshal Bruce Bouch told the Times in December.
The state is planning to call at least two fire marshals to testify, League said to Stansfield.
This is Schech's second brush with law enforcement. He was charged in 2007 with second-degree assault, but the case was dropped after Donna Schech invoked her spousal privilege as his spouse and refused to testify, according to previous Times reporting.