Swartz implicated by co-defendant in Bell murder trial


Michael Swartz told one of his alleged accomplices in the murder of a Crownsville man, "We killed him. The guy's dead," a co-defendant testified yesterday.

Mr. Swartz, 25, is on trial in the murder of 57-year-old Robert Austin Bell last July.

Henry Louis Stettler IV told an Anne Arundel County Circuit Court jury that he drove Mr. Swartz and Ronald L. Scoates to Mr. Bell's home and waited in the car while the two went inside to get money. Mr. Swartz emerged about 20 minutes later and said they had killed Mr. Bell, he said.

Stettler, 28, the son of H. Louis Stettler III, chief deputy state treasurer, pleaded guilty in February to being an accessory to murder after the fact. He faces a maximum of 15 years in prison at his July 26 sentencing. He said his testimony against Mr. Swartz was not part of his plea agreement.

In court yesterday, Stettler said he, Mr. Swartz and Scoates had not gone to work that day and had been drinking vodka and orange soda that afternoon. He said they drove to Mr. Bell's home, where Scoates had lived for about two months, after Scoates said Mr. Bell owed him $100 for his security deposit.

Stettler said he dozed in the car. When Mr. Swartz and Scoates returned, Scoates was carrying a bloody knife and a white sack, Stettler said.

Police later identified the sack as a pillow case filled with coins from Mr. Bell's large collection.

Stettler said that he didn't see a knife before they were at the house but that he later saw Mr. Swartz pull a knife from under the car's back seat.

But Stettler also suggested Scoates may have been the instigator.

He said that Scoates told him, "I'll kill you if you snitch on me," and that Scoates later said, "I can't believe I killed a man for 50 or 60 bucks."

Stettler's testimony was postponed from Tuesday afternoon, when Judge Lawrence H. Rushworth ruled that Stettler could not testify after drinking vodka during a lunch break.

During the two-hour recess Tuesday, reporters overheard Stettler and Nancy Porter, Scoates' girlfriend, discussing what appeared to be the testimony she had given that morning at a restaurant bar near the courthouse.

Both Stettler and Ms. Porter had been told not to discuss the trial with other witnesses. But Stettler said he had not learned anything new, so the judge allowed him to testify.

Scoates, of Annapolis, faces first-degree murder, armed robbery and conspiracy charges.

When the Bell slaying occurred, Scoates was on parole from a Florida prison where he had served about seven years of a 35-year murder sentence.

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