A 49-year-old Baltimore auto mechanic who twice had first-degree murder convictions overturned by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals was again found guilty in Harford Circuit Court yesterday.
The jury of six men and six women deliberated about 90 minutes before returning its guilty verdict against Ethel "Dino" Watson for beating and strangling his 21-year-old, pregnant Washington girlfriend at an Edgewood motel in 1987.
Charges were not pursued in the death of a 5-month fetus carried by the victim, prosecutors said at the time, because a state medical examiner determined the fetus would not have lived if it had been born at the time of the crime.
Circuit Judge Cypert O. Whitfill, citing the overwhelming evidence presented by the state, imposed a life sentence on Watson, allowing 1,960 days credit for time served.
The judge also cited the victim's having been allowed to suffer before Watson called for an ambulance and his displaying no remorse at the time of the killing or during the trial.
Testimony during the two-week trial indicated that Watson and the victim, Jeanette Denise "Rose" Hill, had checked into the Chase Manor Motel in Edgewood about 2 p.m. on Sept. 13, 1987.
Witnesses said Watson called for emergency medical assistance at 5:20 p.m.
When paramedics arrived, Ms. Hill's body already had begun to stiffen, leading investigators to conclude that she had been dead for a couple of hours before Watson had summoned help.
A state medical examiner agreed and said bruises on the neck showed that Ms. Hill had died from manual strangulation.
The unborn fetus had died of blunt-force blows to Ms. Hill's abdomen, causing the mother life-threatening injuries.
Watson's first conviction and sentencing to life in prison in 1988 were set aside because the jury was allowed to hear testimony that the defendant had a rape conviction eight years before Ms. Hill was found dead at the motel on U.S. 40.
The special appellate court ruled that the trial judge had erred in allowing the jury to hear about the prior conviction.
After Watson's second trial in 1991, the conviction was overturned again on appeal because hearsay testimony was accepted into evidence.
The state Court of Special Appeals ruled that the jury was erroneously permitted to hear the deceased woman's father testify that she had told him that "a boy named Robert was the father of the child she was carrying."
In closing remarks yesterday, prosecutor M. Elizabeth Bowen chastised the defense for parading character witnesses before the jury who essentially only testified that Watson was an excellent auto mechanic.
Eric P. Macdonnell, the public defender for Watson, called the police investigation shoddy, contending detectives never seriously looked for any suspect other than his client, who called them to the crime scene.
Mr. Macdonnell asked the jury to consider why anyone would plan to commit murder, as the state was contending, and then sign his own name and write his own address in the motel register.
Co-prosecutor Hans Miller, in rebuttal, said Watson did not have to plan the murder of Ms. Hill for any long period to be guilty of premeditation. As he strangled the victim, he had time to realize he was murdering her, Mr. Miller said.
"Detectives didn't have to go looking for the murder weapon," said Mr. Miller, pointing at the defendant. "The murder weapon -- the hands of Ethel Watson -- are in this courtroom today."