Day 3 of murder trial: Footage shows detective accusing Schech of lying during interview

The state continued to call witnesses in day three of Robert Schech Sr.'s trial for murder including the detective who investigated the alleged homicide.

The narrative presented by Robert Schech Sr. was called into question by a detective during video footage of an interview shown Wednesday, May 2, during the third day of Schech's murder trial.

Schech, 70, formerly of Hampstead, is charged with first-degree murder, first-degree arson, felony murder and first-degree malicious burning in the death of his wife, Donna Schech, in November 2016.


The state continued to present its case against Schech on Wednesday morning in the Circuit Court of Carroll County before Judge Thomas Stansfield with Carroll County Sheriff's Office Detective Richard Harbaugh on the stand. Tuesday's proceedings concluded with testimony that Schech provided a written statement after approximately an hour of interviewing with Harbaugh late in the afternoon of Nov. 13, the day after the fire, at the Sheriff's Office's Northern Office.

The tone of the interview, as shown in the footage being shown in the courtroom, shifted.

"You're being mostly truthful, but there's certain things you aren't telling me," Harbaugh said on the video.

He asked Schech whether he had put any hands on his wife at all that night. Schech said he hadn't. He said she often had bruises on her legs, but those came from her work.

Harbaugh asked Schech what his wife was wearing the night of the fire because it was important to identify her. Schech said she was wearing a long purple nightgown that she had recently bought. This was rare, he said, for her to spend money, and the nightgown was unlike the others that were older. He could not remember the design of the garment well.

Harbaugh questioned his recollection of the night where he described his wife standing still next to the bed with her nightgown on fire. He asked whether she was moving around or screaming, but Schech could not describe it.

He said he got up and moved to her side of the bed, where he saw that the whole side of the bed was on fire. He then ran outside to get a rug to wrap his wife in, he said, but realized it wouldn't work and ran out to get a hose. When he tried to re-enter the home, he could not because it was too hot, he said.

Harbaugh told Schech that investigators from the Office of the State Fire Marshal were examining the scene and knew things hadn't happened the way Schech had said.

"How did she die?" Harbaugh asked.

Schech said he did not know. "The fire was just too hot," he said on the video.

Harbaugh questioned why Schech had run past the bathroom and the sink knowing his wife was on fire in the bedroom.

"I knew you needed more than a glass of water to put this out," Schech said.

The atmosphere continued to increase in tension and Harbaugh said that Schech had lied at least three times during the course of the interview.

Finally Harbaugh asked, "That purple nightgown should not be in the washing machine, correct?… Because the basement didn't burn."


Harbaugh said he'd been in contact with fire marshal's investigators on the phone.

"They're pulling that out of there as we speak," Harbaugh said, referring to the nightgown.

Later they discussed a phone call Schech was expecting Saturday, Nov. 12. Schech said he did not recall receiving it, but if he did it must have been later that night after he began drinking.

"When I drink, I forget everything," he said.

"Is there a chance something could have happened while you were drunk?" Harbaugh asked.

Schech insisted there was no chance that he could have harmed his wife and there was no chance he had accidentally caused the fire while blacked out.

'We're sitting here … you know how many times you've said you love your wife? Zero," Harbaugh said.

Later during the day's testimony, the state entered into evidence phone records that indicated Schech received the expected call just before 2 p.m. Saturday and spoke with the caller for 16 minutes.

Harbaugh also said that there were video cameras on a nearby house that could show something that would hurt Schech's trustworthiness.

"It can't possibly hurt me — because I didn't do it," Schech said.

Later Deputy Chief State Fire Marshal Sander Cohen joined the two in the interview room and asked Schech to go through the events preceding the fire again.

When asked, Schech told Cohen that the time between awakening to witness Donna Schech's nightgown on fire to the time he was outside his house was less than a minute.

"In less than a minute … it went from your wife and bed to your entire house?" Cohen asked.

Schech maintained throughout the interview that he could not have possibly harmed his wife or set fire to the home. "Everything I tell you, I think is the truth," he told Harbaugh and Cohen on the video.

Schech left the interview at approximately 7:45 on Nov. 13.

During cross-examination, Schech's attorney, Joseph Murtha questioned Harbaugh about the methods he used in order to try to extract a confession from Schech during the interview.

"Did he ever not deny that he had killed his wife? He was consistent throughout, correct?" Murtha asked Harbaugh.

The last witnesses called Wednesday evening were members of Donna Schech's family. Her son, Mark Bryte, testified that he and his mother moved into Schech's home at 2611 Hoffman Mill Road more than 25 years ago, when he was 5 years old.

He described his relationship with his stepfather Robert Schech, saying: 'We got along. We weren't best friends, but I respected him and he respected me."

He characterized his mother as an alcoholic. He also characterized Robert Schech as an alcoholic, and said the two would often drink in their bedroom and would sometimes argue.

Chief Deputy State's Attorney Jason League asked Bryte to clarify information about the home, including the layout and location of sinks and telephones and smoke detectors. Bryte also discussed the times he had spoken to Robert Schech following the fire.

The first time, he said they talked very briefly when Schech informed him his mother was deceased. During the second conversation he testified that Schech told him the burns on his hands were the result of trying to pat out the fire on Donna Schech's nightgown. The third time they spoke, when they viewed the scene of the fire, Bryte said Schech told him that his mother didn't suffer and that she would have died from cirrhosis before too long.

League asked whether Schech had clarified on the claim that she did not suffer. Bryte said he did not explain.

The trial is scheduled to resume Thursday at 9:15 a.m.