ELKTON -- A Cecil County man whose wife died a day after they had a violent argument last August was convicted yesterday of assault and battery in a case that had outraged the woman's family because he was not charged with murder.
Circuit Judge Edward D. E. Rollins Jr. said there was ample evidence that Kenneth Dean Melvin, a 30-year-old truck driver, had assaulted his wife in their Perryville mobile home last Aug. 18.
Shirley A. Melvin, 34, arrived at the hospital in a coma and was diagnosed as brain dead from the rupture of a weakened blood vessel in her brain. She died the next day when life-support systems were removed.
While her death certificate lists the cause as homicide, prosecutors said Melvin was never indicted for murder because the weakened blood vessel, known as an aneurysm, could have burst at any time.
However, the family pointed to the hospital reports, which had suggested that Mrs. Melvin may have been strangled, as evidence that a violent quarrel could have caused the ruptured aneurysm.
Melvin, who told sheriff's deputies that he had smacked his wife with the back of his hand and knocked her to the floor, seemed stunned by the outcome of this trial as he left the courthouse.
"I don't understand," he told a reporter.
Judge Rollins revoked Melvin's $25,000 bond and placed him in custody pending a presentencing investigation. Melvin is to be sentenced April 9 and faces a maximum of 20 years, although few people convicted of assault get such a stiff penalty.
Before the trial, members of Mrs. Melvin's family said they were shocked that her husband had not been charged with murder and accused county prosecutors of not pursuing the case aggressively enough.
The trial generated such a flood of pretrial publicity, in The Sun and several other newspapers, that defense lawyer Christopher
J. Eastridge decided to forgo a jury trial and have a judge decide the case.
Shirley Crossan, the victim's sister, said she remained disappointed that Melvin had not been charged with murder but was pleased that he at least had been found guilty of assault and battery.
"Yes!" she screamed in the courtroom when the verdict was announced, and she said later, "I'm so pleased. There is justice."
During the trial, the court heard three tape-recorded interviews with Melvin in which he claimed that he and his wife had been drinking and using cocaine the evening of the assault. He said the fight started when his wife flew into a jealous rage upon returning from a bar and finding him sleeping near a neighbor's wife, who has fallen asleep on the couple's couch.
Mr. Eastridge unsuccessfully filed a motion for acquittal, arguing that prosecutors had failed to provide evidence corroborating that an assault had taken place.