Murder trial co-defendant finally testifies Stettler admitted he'd been drinking, was not allowed to testify yesterday.


Henry Louis Stettler 4th finally got his chance to testify today.

An Anne Arundel County Circuit Court judge ruled yesterday that he was unfit to testify at the murder trial of an acquaintance because he had been drinking at lunch.

Stettler, 28, today testified in the first-degree murder trial of Michael Swartz, 25. Swartz and Ronald Lamar Scoates, 31, both of Annapolis, are charged with the fatal stabbing of 52-year-old Robert Austin Bell last July 9.

Stettler already has pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact in the murder of Bell. He is to be sentenced July 26. The state's attorney's office is recommending a jail sentence.

Stettler testified today that after drinking vodka mixed with orange soda last July 9, he, Scoates and Swartz visited several people in an effort to borrow money. At Scoates' suggestion, the three men went to Bell's home in Crownsville, where Scoates had lived for a while, to borrow money, Stettler said.

During a first visit to Bell's home, Scoates had Stettler turn his car around because Bell was not home alone. Later in the day, the three men returned to Bell's home. While Stettler remained in the car dozing, Scoates and Swartz went inside Bell's home to get a $100 security deposit Scoates said Bell owed him, Stettler testified.

After a 15- to 20-minute wait, Swartz returned to the car and said, "We killed him," Stettler testified. Then, Scoates returned to the car and threatened to kill Stettler if he told anyone of the crime, he said.

Judge Lawrence H. Rushworth had postponed Stettler's testimony yesterday after Stettler appeared in court with a flushed face and slightly slurred speech. But he ruled that Stettler hadn't disqualified himself as a witness, even though he had discussed the case over lunch with another witness.

Stettler admitted to the judge he had consumed three to four mixed drinks of cranberry juice and vodka during a two-hour luncheon recess.

An Evening Sun reporter overheard Stettler and Nancy Porter, Scoates' girlfriend, discussing what seemed to be the testimony she had given yesterday morning. The two had been seated in a bar near the State House, having an animated discussion.

As is customary, Rushworth had ordered all witnesses in the trial not to discuss their testimony with anyone until the trial is over.

The jury was sent out of the room while Stettler was asked about his conversation with Porter.

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