Melvin Robert Bowers went on trial yesterday for a second time on a manslaughter charge in the 1993 chloroform-inhalation death of his 20-year-old girlfriend.
A Howard Circuit Court jury could not reach a verdict on a charge of manslaughter at Bowers' trial in August 1994, although he was convicted of a lesser count, reckless endangerment. Prosecutors are making another attempt for a manslaughter conviction.
"This is a strange, unusual and somewhat bizarre case," Howard County State's Attorney Marna McLendon said in her opening statement.
Bowers, a 52-year-old Ellicott City accountant, is charged with giving Geneva Marie Hodge of Baltimore a deadly dosage of chloroform to treat a toothache on Sept. 6, 1993.
He could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison if he convicted of manslaughter. But if he is acquitted, he still could be given a five-year jail term for his conviction on the reckless endangerment count.
His trial resumes today.
Ms. McLendon and Deputy Public Defender Louis Willemin told the eight women and four men of the jury similar stories about the Bowers case in their opening statements. But they differed on whether Ms. Hodge's death was the result of manslaughter or simply an accident.
Ms. McLendon described Ms. Hodge as a vibrant young woman who met Bowers 18 months before her death while she was working as a dancer at a show bar on The Block in Baltimore.
Ms. Hodge's death occurred after a night of drinking alcohol and having "rough sex" with Bowers at his home in the 2800 block of Southview Road, Ms. McLendon said.
The prosecutor asserted that Bowers should have known the dangers posed by chloroform -- an anesthetic now rarely used by doctors -- because of its risks.
She said the prosecution will prove that Bowers was "grossly negligent" for putting a chloroform-soaked rag over Ms. Hodge's nose and mouth and then falling asleep with the rag still in place on the woman.
Ms. McLendon said the prosecution's testimony will show that Bowers waited nine hours before calling 911 after discovering that Ms. Hodge was dead the next morning.
Prosecution witnesses will testify that Bowers put Ms. Hodge's body on a tarpaulin and began digging a grave in the backyard of his home, Ms. McLendon said. She added that the testimony will show that Bowers went to a supermarket three times, called two ministers for advice and consulted with a lawyer before calling authorities.
Bowers, a divorced father of two children, sobbed as his public defender presented jurors with snapshots taken of him and Ms. Hodge during their trip to the Bahamas several months before her death.
Mr. Willemin said that Bowers "freaked out" after discovering Ms. Hodge's body and attempted to save himself from embarrassment. He said that Bowers considered fleeing, as he had seen a character do in the movie "The Fugitive."
The defense attorney contended that prosecutors will not be able to support the manslaughter charge. He said the medical examiner who conducted the autopsy on Ms. Hodge's body classified the cause of her death as undetermined -- not homicide, a necessity that he said is needed to prove manslaughter.
Mr. Willemin added that a defense expert will testify that Ms. Hodge's death was an accident, caused by a lethal mix of chloroform and alcohol.