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Convictions in stabbing cases reversed

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Maryland's Court of Special Appeals has reversed the murder convictions of Michael S. Matusky in the 1993 stabbings of a mother and daughter at their home in Parkville, ruling that hearsay statements naming him as the killer should not have been admitted as testimony.

In February 1994, the 45-year-old pipefitter was given two life sentences without parole by Baltimore County Circuit Judge Thomas J. Bollinger. A jury had convicted Mr. Matusky of first-degree murder in the deaths of Gertrude Poffel, 75, and Pamela Poffel, 39.

The hearsay statements were attributed to a man alleged to have been an accomplice, Richard Dean White, the long-estranged husband of Pamela Poffel. Awaiting a separate trial, Mr. White invoked his Fifth Amendment right against forced self-incrimination when called to testify at Mr. Matusky's trial.

Over objections by defense attorney Phillip M. Sutley, Mr. White's former girlfriend was allowed to tell the jury what she said he told her -- that he and Mr. Matusky planned the killings, and that he drove them to the Poffel home but waited outside.

The legal problem arose when she was allowed to recount another part of Mr. White's rambling confession, saying Mr. Matusky alone killed the women because he blamed them for the 1985 suicide of a friend, Ted Poffel -- son and brother of the murder victims.

The appeals court, citing higher court opinions since the murder trial, took issue with just these two statements -- naming Mr. Matusky as the killer and providing his motive for the crime.

When Mr. White was implicating himself in the crime -- and thus presumed to be telling the truth -- the hearsay was admissible, according to the written opinion. When he began shifting the blame, it was not.

And with Mr. White refusing to testify, Mr. Matusky could not challenge these critical statements through cross-examination.

At his own trial, Mr. White, 44, of Parkville was acquitted by a jury. Because he cannot be tried again in the same crime, he could not invoke the Fifth Amendment if Mr. Matusky were tried again.

Assistant State's Attorney Stephen Bailey said the reversal may be challenged before the Court of Appeals. He also noted that it does not take effect for 30 days, leaving Mr. Matusky in prison for now.

Mr. Sutley said he expects the case to be retried. "One of the problems is that the case is so horrible, people want a conviction," he said.

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