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Carroll County Crime

Sides argue motions in case of son accused of fatally stabbing father

Joseph Wesley Pine

A judge will have to decide whether to allow the prosecution to seek life in prison without parole and if a psychologist's evaluation should be excluded from evidence in the case of a Mount Airy man charged in the 2013 stabbing death of his father.

Police found Michael J. Pine, 63, of the 700 block of Bridlewreath Way, lying unresponsive on Sept. 2, 2013 with multiple stab wounds, according to court documents. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

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According to court records, Joseph Wesley Pine, 32, allegedly sent a text message to his former girlfriend saying, "WWell [sic] I did what I said I would do. Killed dad. But now I think I'll kill myself."

Pine is charged with first-degree murder and has been held at the Carroll County Detention Center since the incident, according to electronic court files. The state is seeking life in prison without the possibility of parole.

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Wednesday, public defender Thomas Nugent Jr. argued Maryland's sentencing regimen for first-degree murder since abolishing the death penalty in 2013 does not provide adequate guidance on when to seek life without parole — now the state's harshest penalty — or when it should be applied.

"It's the prosecution alone who controls the exposure to life without parole," Nugent argued before Judge Michael M. Galloway in support of a motion to set aside the state's notice of intention to seek life without parole.

If the state seeks life without parole and the defendant is sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole, the stat's request for for life without parole increases from 15 to 25 years the period before the defendant is eligible for parole, Nugent said. This situation is called a "failed life without parole," according to Nugent.

Deputy State's Attorney Edward Coyne said any defendant who commits first-degree murder risks being sentenced to life without parole.

"There's nothing vague or overly broad," Coyne said. "It's right there in the statute."

Nugent argued for the defense that because there are no aggravating or mitigating factors for a judge or jury to consider before sentencing Pine, the sentencing tribunal has carte blanche to apply the most strict penalty, with no requirement to analyze relevant factors.

Nugent said this leads to a system which can arbitrarily sentence a defendant with no way of quantifying "worse crimes."

"All that is required is that the state says, 'It's a bad crime,' " he said.

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Prosecutor Coyne countered juries have been deciding between life without parole and life in prison for years. If a defendant is not sentenced to death, the jury does not receive additional instructions regarding life without parole.

The detailed and narrowly-tailored guidelines for applying the death penalty were required because death was the harshest penalty, Coyne said. Courts have repeatedly held that "death is different" and fundamentally cannot be compared to a sentence of life without parole.

Coyne also argued the issue was not yet "ripe" because sentencing does not become an issue until after the defendant has been convicted.

Galloway said he was inclined to agree the time for raising the issue hadn't come, though the judge did not rule Wednesday.

"There seems to me there's some merit to the state's argument that until — unless — the defendant is found guilty, the issue is not ripe," Galloway said.

Galloway also heard arguments on the state's motion to exclude the testimony of a psychologist who analyzed Pine and submitted a written report.

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Coyne argued the opinions contained in the report, which the psychologist would testify to, are inadmissible because they are highly speculative and speak to the ultimate issue of Pine's state of mind at the time of the stabbing, which is an issue left to the jury.

Nugent said at trial, the case will turn on whether prosecutors can establish that Pine possessed the requisite mental state for first-degree murder and killed his father willfully, deliberately and with premeditation.

The report says, in part, that Pine had a "brief psychotic episode" and was not in control of his actions at the time of his father's death.

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The psychologist also mentions extreme emotional turmoil, multiple personality disorder and schizophrenic-like symptoms, according to Coyne.

Case law prohibits a mental health professional from testifying about what a defendant was thinking at the time of a crime, Coyne said. A psychologist can only testify generally to a diagnosis and whether, in his or her expert opinion, the defendant's actions are typical of someone with that diagnosis.

Coyne said that because there are no specific issues in Pine's case that were present in case law where such testimony is permitted, the psychologist's testimony would be unfairly prejudicial and not useful to the jury because Pine himself can testify to his thoughts at the time of the murder.

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"I would suggest that none of the things he's been diagnosed with have murder as a symptom," Coyne said.

Nugent argued the psychologist's testimony would assist him in showing that the state could not prove Pine's actions were not willful, deliberate and premeditated.

Galloway will rule on both parties' motions in the near future because a two-week jury trial is expected to begin on Sept. 22 in the Circuit Court for Carroll County.

Reach staff writer Heather Cobun at 410-857-7898 or email heather.cobun@carrollcountytimes.com.


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