Three years ago, a Delaware jury acquitted Ronald Gillis of murdering a man over $1,200, but the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that he must stand trial in Maryland for the crime.
The skeletal remains of the murder victim, Byron Wendell Parker, were discovered in Maryland near the Delaware border, five months after Mr. Gillis was acquitted. Delaware prosecutors proceeded with the 1990 trial although the body had not been found.
Based on the discovery of the body, a Kent County, Md., grand jury indicted Mr. Gillis, 47, of Clayton, Del., in July 1992. Police now charge that the murder occurred in Maryland.
Mr. Gillis is being held by authorities in Kent County.
His public defender, George E. Burns Jr., appealed the Maryland prosecution, contending that the Constitution's Full Faith and Credit Clause required the state to respect the judgments of the Delaware jury. The clause requires each state to give full credit to public acts, records and judicial proceedings in other states.
The court's unanimous opinion rejected what it termed a "novel" argument.
"Since the state of Maryland has not yet been afforded the opportunity to litigate whether Gillis violated its criminal laws, that opportunity ought not be denied," Judge Howard S. Chasanow held in the court's opinion.
Judge Chasanow also stated that Mr. Gillis was not protected from a second trial by double-jeopardy provisions, although that issue was not raised. Despite double jeopardy protections, he said, states can prosecute defendants for crimes occurring within their jurisdictions, even after acquittals in other states.
"With the double jeopardy door slammed tightly shut, Gillis looks to the Full Faith and Credit Clause in an attempt to escape the Maryland prosecution," the judge observed. "We decline Gillis' invitation to use the Full Faith and Credit Clause as a means to circumvent the previously foreclosed double jeopardy challenge."
Delaware authorities say Mr. Parker, of Middletown, Del., took off from work on Sept. 25, 1986 to recover a $1,200 debt from Mr. Gillis, which had caused him to file a civil suit in Delaware. That morning, Mr. Gillis followed Mr. Parker's car to Odessa, Del. where it was dropped off at an an auto repair shop. The men left the shop together in Mr. Gillis' car.
The details of in the case become unclear from that point. Mr. Gillis later told investigators that Mr. Parker got into a car with several men who said they were headed for Atlantic City. Police later found blood in Mr. Gillis' car that matched Mr. Parker's blood type.
Mr. Gillis was acquitted after a four-week trial in Delaware.
Judge Chasanow questioned whether Delaware had jurisdiction to try someone for a crime that later was determined did not happen within its borders. He said it can be presumed that Mr. Parker was killed in Maryland because his remains were found three-fourths of a mile inside the state.
Mr. Burns said his office may appeal the ruling again.
"I think there's a substantially good chance that we'll petition the Supreme Court," he said, adding that the nation's highest court never has ruled on whether the constitutional clause can be used to prevent a second murder trial in another state.
Gary E. Bair, the attorney general's chief of criminal appeals, agreed with the ruling. He said the discovery of Mr. Parker's body will strengthen the prosecution's case in the second trial.