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Children awarded damages in mother's death


A Mount Airy brother and sister received more than $2.3 million in damages yesterday from a civil lawsuit filed on their behalf against their father, who is serving a five-year prison sentence for the 1992 slaying of their mother.

Kevin and Laura Calhoun, ages 12 and 14, were awarded the damages by a jury of four men and two women that deliberated about four hours before reaching the verdict after a three-day Howard Circuit Court trial.

James Eagan III, a Columbia attorney and court-appointed guardian for the children, filed a suit against their father in February 1994, claiming that the man's malicious, wrongful acts resulted in the death of their mother. Mr. Eagan initially sought $10 million in damages for each of the children.

"You cannot come up with a [monetary] number . . . that would compensate these children for what they lost," said Gary Peklo, an Ellicott City lawyer representing Mr. Eagan and the children.

John Carroll Calhoun, 54, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter for kicking a ladder his wife was standing on and causing her to fall and strike her head on scaffolding stacked alongside their home on May 13, 1992.

Police say Calhoun went about his business, leaving his wife, Gladys Esther Calhoun, 45, to die in the yard of their Marriottsville home. The detectives say Calhoun arranged for relatives to find his wife's body later that day.

Emile Henault, a Glen Burnie lawyer for Calhoun, acknowledged that the jury had the basis to award damages in the wrongful-death count of the lawsuit but argued that his client never acted in a malicious manner.

Mr. Henault said Calhoun never intended to harm his wife.

"Everybody wants to paint him as a villain," Mr. Henault said. "He is not a villain. He is a man who made a mistake."

But Mr. Peklo argued that Calhoun's actions after his wife fell from the 16-foot aluminum ladder -- particularly the fact that he did not call for an ambulance -- provides the basis for the lawsuit.

"He leaves her there to die," Mr. Peklo said. "If that wasn't wanton, if that wasn't willful, if that wasn't with malice, I don't know what is."

During pretrial hearings for the criminal case, police detectives testified that Calhoun confessed to the slaying after they confronted him with a note showing that Mrs. Cal

houn knew he had an affair with a co-worker at the National Security Agency at Fort Meade.

Calhoun is serving his five-year sentence at the Roxbury Correctional Institution in Hagerstown. He has served about 21 months of his term.

The Calhoun children said in court papers that they do not wish to live with their father after his release from prison. They are now living with a Mount Airy couple Calhoun met through a church in Ellicott City, despite efforts by his wife's relatives to gain custody.

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