A Virginia man who prosecutors say came to Howard County with the intention of killing his cousin was found guilty yesterday of the June 1991 murder of the man at the Jessup hotel room of his ex-wife.
A Howard Circuit Court jury of eight women and four men deliberated about nine hours before reaching its verdict in the case of Adel George Hagez, 45, of Richmond, Va.
Hagez was convicted of first-degree murder and a weapons charge in the slaying of Riad S. Hijaz, also of Richmond. Police said Mr. Hijaz was the boyfriend of Mr. Hagez's then ex-wife.
"This was not a random shooting," Senior Assistant State's Attorney Christine Gage told the jury during her closing statement. "This was not an accidental shooting. This was absolutely intentional."
Hagez faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. His sentencing date has not been set.
Hagez did not testify. His attorney, Richard O'Connor of Ellicott City, did not present any witnesses or evidence.
"The defendant does not have to testify," Mr. O'Connor said during his closing statement. "The state's case is so pathetic and weak, what does he have to say?"
Hagez, who operates four restaurants with his wife, shot Mr. Hijaz six times in a Holiday Inn room on June 22, 1991, prosecutors said.
His then ex-wife, Virginia Dorhan Hagez, 44, also of Richmond, was in Howard County to operate a food stand at the Columbia City Fair. Mr. Hijaz came to visit her.
The shooting occurred about three months after Mrs. Hagez was granted a divorce from her husband.
The couple remarried four days before the husband's trial started.
Mrs. Hagez, who prosecutors say witnessed the shooting, refused to testify despite an order by Judge Cornelius Sybert Jr. The judge will sentence her on June 11 for contempt of court.
Ms. Gage offered the jury the following scenario of the shooting:
On the morning of the shooting, Mrs. Hagez and Mr. Hijaz were having coffee when they heard a vacuum cleaner running outside the room and then a knock on the door.
Mrs. Hagez, thinking a maid was waiting outside, answered the door. Other hotel guests testified they heard a woman scream moments before gunshots rang out.
Mrs. Hagez tried to close the door, but Hagez forced his way in by using the butt of his Colt .357 magnum revolver to push the door open. A dented door was shown to the jury.
Hagez fired three shots at Mr. Hijaz and then fired three others at close range. "He needed to make sure the man was dead, the man who had the audacity to be in a hotel room with his ex-wife," Ms. Gage said.
After the shooting, Mrs. Hagez ran hysterically from the room and encountered police officers arriving at the hotel. The woman told one officer that nothing was "going on" between her and Mr. Hijaz, according to testimony.
Police found a revolver believed to have been the murder weapon in the trunk of a Nissan Sentra, discovered in a Gaithersburg parking lot three days after the shooting.
A firearms expert testified that the revolver could have been used to shoot Mr. Hijaz, but he could not offer conclusive proof because the bullets police recovered were too mutilated for testing. The gun had Hagez's fingerprint on it, but Mr. O'Connor noted there is no way of knowing how long the print had
In addition, the gun was stained with Type A blood, the same type as Mr. Hijaz. But Mr. O'Connor pointed out that more than 40 percent of the population has the same blood type.
Mr. O'Connor argued that the prosecution based its case on speculation, with few facts to support it. "There is nothing to link Mr. Hagez to the scene of this crime," he said.
Mr. O'Connor challenged the police investigation. He noted that one officer lost a report, a vial of the victim's blood is missing, and a technician never checked a wine bottle, beer cans and coffee cups in the hotel room for fingerprints.