Ronald A. Manno insisted he mistakenly shot his girlfriend in the back as she walked away from his car, but a Baltimore County judge yesterday called the story "incredible" and pronounced Manno guilty of first-degree murder.
Manno, 53, a Johns Hopkins University-educated engineer, took the stand in his own defense yesterday and said he fired the fatal shot in an effort to convince Mary Flora, 40, that he was serious about killing himself.
"I cocked it, and just fired it out the window, what I thought was in the air. I never looked," said Manno, recalling the events of Aug. 11, 1991. "She spun around and yelled, 'Ronnie, call a doctor! Ronnie, call a doctor!' "
He didn't call a doctor, saying he didn't have change. Instead, he drove around Towson to dispose of the handgun, which he said he "threw out the window. I don't remember where."
Ms. Flora was shot on a parking lot outside Rascals nightclub in the 1600 block of East Joppa Road.
Manno testified in a soft, almost inaudible voice. He paused often and frequently burst into tears. His hands shook as he took sips of water from a paper cup.
Circuit Judge John Grason Turnbull II was not impressed.
The judge, in rendering his decision, zeroed in on Manno's explanation of how he fired the .22-caliber Smith and Wesson pistol.
"I reject the defendant's version," Judge Turnbull said. "Even if he was trying to scare her, he doesn't fire the gun in the car. He doesn't fire it out the driver's window. He doesn't fire it in the air. He says he doesn't look, but I don't believe him."
Judge Turnbull, who heard the case without a jury, ordered a psychiatric evaluation and a presentence investigation of Manno's background. Manno faces a maximum of life in prison, plus 20 years for a handgun violation.
Kim Detrick, an assistant state's attorney, said she spoke with Ms. Flora's mother, Constance Dewey, after the verdict. "She's very relieved. She was worried he might get off," Ms. Detrick said.
Manno testified in an apparent attempt to show that the shooting was accidental and therefore that he was guilty of a lesser charge of manslaughter or second-degree murder.