Caretaker convicted in homicide Woman found guilty in slaying, arson


After deliberating just 75 minutes, a Baltimore City Circuit jury returned a guilty verdict yesterday against a caretaker who was accused of beating a disabled woman in the head with a hammer, dousing her with gasoline and setting her ablaze.

The defendant, Patricia Ann Harris of Middle River, was found guilty of first-degree murder, arson and theft in the Jan. 8, 1991, slaying of Jean Ashburn, 64, of the 5700 block of Rockspring Road in Mount Washington.

After a juror announced the verdict, Harris, 31, collapsed to the floor. Two defense lawyers rushed to assist her. Once Harris got to her feet, she screamed: "No. . . . No, it's not true. . . . I didn't do it."

Judge Elsbeth L. Bothe set sentencing for March 20. Harris, the mother of three children, faces life imprisonment on the first-degree murder charge, 30 years for arson and 18 months on the theft charge.

On Friday, Harris refused to testify, and the defense rested its case.

The prosecution asserted that robbery was the motive for the slaying.

Harris killed Mrs. Ashburn, who suffered from multiple sclerosis, and burned her body to hide the fact that she had been beaten, a prosecutor told the jury.

Mrs. Ashburn hired Harris Jan. 5, 1991. Harris cared for Mrs. Ashburn from 4:30 p.m. to 8 a.m., and a nurse looked after Mrs. Ashburn during the day.

Mrs. Ashburn required constant attention because she suffered from multiple sclerosis and a broken ankle, said Assistant State's Attorney Althea Handy.

On the night of the murder, Harris was not present at Mrs. Ashburn's house when firefighters arrived.

Police determined that some of Mrs. Ashburn's belongings, including her purse and a clear plastic coin bank, were missing.

The state's case was circumstantial, based on Harris' absence and the testimony of two witnesses who said they saw Harris with a clear plastic bank that was similar to one owned by the slain woman.

Public defenders Maureen Glancy and Joy Phillips attempted to impeach the testimony of the witnesses. The defense also pointed out that one witness was a convicted arsonist and the other is serving time in prison for auto theft and shoplifting.

Outside the courtroom, Margaret Woodard, a friend of Mrs. Ashburn's, said: "I'm very happy that she [Harris] was found guilty. It's not right for a person to go in someone's house to take care of them and do what she did."

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