Error allowed gun purchase by father held in slayings; Restraining order, if properly filed, might have blocked the sale

THE BALTIMORE SUN

An oversight by the Howard County Sheriff's Department enabled Richard Wayne Spicknall II to buy a gun that police say he used to kill his 2-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter, authorities said yesterday.

Spicknall, who police say admitted shooting the children as they sat strapped in child-safety seats, likely faces a second count of first-degree murder in the wake of his daughter Destiny's death at 2: 45 p.m. yesterday at Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore. He has been charged in the death of his 2-year-old son.

Destiny Spicknall clung to life for more than a day after her brother, Richard Spicknall III, was declared dead at a Cambridge hospital Thursday morning. Destiny died with her mother and both sets of grandparents at her side.

Yesterday, the Howard County Sheriff's Department acknowledged that it neglected to enter into a computer the restraining order obtained by Lisa Fields Spicknall, mother of the two children, against her husband in December.

Had the order been entered, according to Maj. Greg Shipley of the Maryland State Police, Spicknall would legally not have been allowed to purchase a 9 mm gun at a College Park pawnshop Aug. 25.

In Easton, Spicknall was ordered held without bail yesterday as authorities arranged a psychiatric examination. Talbot County jail officials are maintaining a suicide watch on the 27-year-old Laurel man, a former manager at the ESPN Zone at Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

Scott Patterson, Talbot County state's attorney, said Spicknall will likely be served with a second charge of first-degree murder this weekend, then appear for another bail review hearing Monday morning.

Patterson said he will review the case before deciding whether to seek the death penalty on each of the first-degree murder charges.

As Spicknall shuffled into an Easton courtroom yesterday morning in handcuffs and shackles, state police divers near Cambridge were searching the waters beneath the Choptank River bridge for the handgun Spicknall told investigators he fired point-blank into the chests of his children.

Police picked up Spicknall, who was dripping wet, at a pay phone on the north end of the Frederick C. Malkus Jr. Bridge fishing pier about 2: 50 a.m. Thursday. He had called for help, saying a hitchhiker had overpowered him and sped off with his children in a 1998 Jeep owned by Spicknall's parents.

A few hours later, roofers arriving on the construction site of a waterfront home about half-a-mile east of the bridge discovered the wounded Spicknall children strapped in their safety seats. The locked Jeep was parked behind the uncompleted luxury home, out of sight of motorists on busy Route 50.

Over the objections of Spicknall's lawyer -- Baltimore attorney Michael J. Belsky -- District Judge William H. Adkins III refused yesterday to delay his decision to deny the suspect bail, but agreed to order a psychiatric evaluation at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Jessup.

Angered over news reports that Spicknall had confessed to shooting his children, Belsky urged the judge to impose a gag order on police and prosecutors, a motion that Adkins also refused.

Belsky said his client has "basically been an all-American young man who played baseball, football and track and was a good student, then majored in business at Anne Arundel Community College."

'Likable guy'

Spicknall graduated in 1990 from Brooklyn Park High School in Anne Arundel County, where he was president of his sophomore and junior classes and served on the homecoming and prom committees. He ran the Future Business Leaders of America Club and coordinated a food drive for the homeless.

Mickey Cashen, Spicknall's track coach at Brooklyn Park, said he was surprised at the news. "He was a kind of quiet, very well-behaved, likable guy," Cashen said. "If I had a daughter who wanted to go out with him, I would've said fine."

He was an "OK student," said Cashen, who recalled that he had "decent enough grades to stay on the team."

Spicknall, the son of a retired Baltimore police officer, was a student at Anne Arundel Community College from fall 1990 to spring 1994. He did not earn enough credits to graduate, school officials said yesterday.

Spicknall, dressed in green and orange prison garb, sat quietly through the 15-minute hearing yesterday, bowing his head and averting his gaze from court personnel, reporters and others.

Around-the-clock watch

Lawrence J. DiNisio, warden at the Talbot County Detention Center, said Spicknall was being held in a special cell where guards can observe him around-the-clock. The arrangement is expected to continue as long as he is confined in the Easton jail.

"We need to be sure he's not a threat to himself," DiNisio said. "And given the nature of the charges, we'd be reluctant to put him anywhere with other inmates."

State police divers are expected to be back at the Choptank River this morning to continue their search for the gun that killed the Spicknall children. Police would not say whether Spicknall told them where he disposed of the weapon, but Lt. Joseph A. Barker Jr. said detectives suggested a search of the Choptank's shifting currents.

A team of six divers spent nearly eight hours yesterday, carefully inching their way around a 50-yard-by-50-yard grid just south of the bridge. Working in two-man shifts, the divers used underwater lights and metal detectors before dropping a weighted line and feeling their way along in the dark.

Gene Parks, a Cambridge waterman who worked for years as an oyster diver, said police will have a difficult time searching the channel that divides the 2-mile-wide Choptank River.

"With good light you can see a 20-foot area," Parks said. "But that area runs anywhere from 10 to 60 feet [deep]. If they get down in that hole, it's mighty dark and lonely. It's pretty murky."

Daughter's death

Jeff Gross, a family friend, announced Destiny's death shortly after 4 p.m. yesterday at a news conference at Shock Trauma.

Appearing with the children's mother, Lisa Spicknall, and other family members, Gross read a statement acknowledging the outpouring of support for the children. He also expressed thanks to police, doctors, medical staff, emergency workers and the construction crew that found the children about six hours after they had been shot.

Before allowing her children to leave for Ocean City with their father, Lisa Spicknall took Destiny and Richard to breakfast at a McDonald's in Glen Burnie.

Later in the day, about an hour before their father picked up the children for the drive to the Eastern Shore, Lisa Spicknall took them to the Orchard Beach Volunteer Fire Station to see their grandfather.

Firefighters said the children played on the fire engine, knocked on the hard yellow fire hats and chased each other outside.

"She would always bring the kids up here," said Orchard Beach fire chief Walt Snyder. "They would climb all over the equipment; they were two really nice kids."

Yesterday, a makeshift memorial had been assembled on the front steps of Spicknall's Laurel townhouse. Four bouquets of flowers adorned the steps.

Sun staff writer Tim Craig contributed to this article.

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