Capital Gazette wins special Pulitzer Prize citation for coverage of newsroom shooting that killed five

Prosecutor to ask death penalty in two killings; Man, 48, charged with bludgeoning mother, stepfather


Jerry F. Barnes, Carroll County state's attorney, intends to seek the death penalty in the killings of a retired Frizzellburg couple last month.

Gary Douglas Starnes, 48, was arrested last week on two counts of first-degree murder and one count of wearing or carrying a dangerous and deadly weapon with intent to injure his stepfather, Joseph Sidney Garrity, 68, and his mother, Barbara Lorraine Ries, 67.

Their bodies were found Dec. 29 in separate bathrooms of their brick ranch home in the 1400 block of Warehime Road in the subdivision of Pleasant Dale, northwest of Westminster.

Police believe Garrity and Ries were bludgeoned with an ax, or similar instrument, about noon Dec. 28.

Police also said Ries had confronted her son about alleged inappropriate sexual behavior toward a relative during the holidays.

The double killing became the second pending capital case in Carroll County.

Smith Harper Dean III, 40, of Hampstead is charged in the shotgun killings of Sharon Lee Mechalske, 38, his former Hampstead girlfriend, and Kent Leonard Cullison, 30, an Arcadia mail carrier, in June 1997.

The killings occurred when Cullison was on his second date with Mechalske, who had broken off a relationship with Dean.

Starnes and Dean are being held without bond at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Jessup, the state's secure facility for inmates with mental health problems.

Starnes was ordered last week to Perkins, where he will undergo psychological evaluations to determine his competency to stand trial.

No trial date has been set.

Dean was evaluated at Perkins and returned to the Carroll County Detention Center last year, where he tried to commit suicide in his cell five days before he was to go to trial.

Dean was returned to Perkins to await an April trial. His lawyers plan an insanity defense.

Barnes said Friday that Starnes' competency is not an issue at this time.

"If he is judged not criminally responsible, so be it," Barnes said. "If he is judged competent, the circumstances make the case eligible for the death penalty, and we will prosecute him to the best of our ability."

According to the statement of charges filed against Starnes, state police have collected a considerable amount of circumstantial evidence, including:

Garrity's daughter spoke to Starnes when she called her father about 7: 30 p.m. Dec. 28 and said Starnes told her Garrity and Ries were asleep. Evidence suggests the couple was killed six or seven hours earlier.

One of Garrity's neighbors told police he saw a pickup truck with a burned-out headlight leaving the Garrity driveway about 9: 30 p.m. Dec. 28.

State police stopped a pickup truck, driven by Starnes, a few miles from the killing scene on Route 140 at 12: 08 a.m. Dec. 29 because it had an inoperative headlight.

When police approached Starnes on Dec. 30 at Carroll County General Hospital, where he was a patient in the psychiatric unit, they told him his parents had "passed away." Police said that rather than questioning what had happened, Starnes told them he would prefer to have a lawyer before discussing their deaths.

Pub Date: 1/11/99

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