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As trial closes, son's painful vigil nears end; Judge's verdict is due in fate of man accused of killing his wife

THE BALTIMORE SUN

As 15-year-old Lucas Dicus sits on a wooden bench in the Anne Arundel County courtroom, he scribbles in his spiral notebook as if taking notes in one of his honors classes at Old Mill High School. But the only test he's faced on this subject has been one of his strength and maturity during grueling and often gruesome testimony.

His green notebook is filled with notes on the eight days of testimony in the trial of his father David Dicus, 41, accused of strangling his wife and Lucas' mother, Terry Lee Keefer, in 1995.

Today, Lucas' vigil in the courtroom may come to an end. At 9: 15 a.m., County Circuit Judge Ronald A. Silkworth is expected to announce his verdict.

His intense writing during the trial, Lucas says, was "the only way to calm myself down."

Through it all, while sitting two rows behind his father and across the aisle from his mother's family, the boy listened and took notes with the detachment of a courtroom stenographer.

He heard in closing arguments this week the state's attorney describe in horrifying clinical detail how his father allegedly strangled his mother. And later, his father's attorney countered that his parents had "great sex, not just good sex" in the hours before his mother disappeared.

Through it all, he supports his father.

"Me and my dad are a package deal," he says in explaining his unwavering belief that his father is innocent and his unwavering moral support, which gave him the will to sit through long, tiring days in court, sometimes doing his homework, sometimes scribbling notes about the trial. "You cannot have one of us without the other."

Perhaps the only thing the prosecution and defense in this trial have agreed on is that Lucas, with the face of a cherub despite his scruffy beard, is a victim.

When he was 11, his mother disappeared while he slept. At age 14 -- early one morning before school -- Lucas watched as Anne Arundel County police arrested his father and charged him in the death of his mother.

"I felt my life was really unfair," said Lucas. "They just came in and cuffed him. I had no idea what they were arresting him for."

After his father's arrest, Lucas moved in with his maternal grandparents -- Muriel and Donald Keefer -- whom he had not seen in two years. While living in their Glen Burnie home, police raided his room, confiscated for evidence a pile of letters his father had written him from jail.

"It was like a bad movie," he said. "They were trying to get me to say something against my father."

He could not live there anymore, he said, so he moved in with an elderly family friend whom he called "Grandma Doris." But, almost two months ago, the police once again knocked on his door.

"I was thinking, 'Oh, God, what do they want with me now,' " he said. "I thought they might try and accuse me of something."

This time the police came to tell him that the elderly woman he had been living with had died in a car accident.

Now, he shuttles among his friends' houses -- neatly squeezing all of his possessions into boxes and a laundry basket. He carries his bass guitar and amplifier with him.

Through it all, he says, his faith in his father has never faltered -- not even when the prosecution's key witness, Catherine S. McNicholas, 41, testified that she helped David Dicus dump his wife's body. Survey crews for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. found Keefer's body in a field near a utility pole less than six weeks after she was reported missing by her husband in 1995.

If anything, the adversity has strengthened a strong bond between father and son. Lucas says he always viewed his father as a "friend" -- calling him David instead of Dad. He called his mom T or Terry.

"They were my parents, but also my friends," he said. "They treated me as an equal."

Lucas remembers his last day with his mother. They went out to dinner at the Double T Diner in Pasadena. He recalls his mother playing the piano and singing.

At the trial, Assistant State's Attorney Frank Ragione said that Dicus wanted to end his marriage to Keefer. He said that Dicus desperately wanted custody of Lucas and was told by a divorce attorney that Maryland favors the mother in custody battles.

"He wanted complete control of Luke; their relationship transcended the normal father-son relationship," said Donald Keefer. "We think that David's motivation was that he wanted complete control of Luke and unfettered access to Cathy [McNicholas] or whoever his paramour may be."

Around the time of the murder, Dicus became reacquainted with McNicholas -- an old friend from high school. The two began an affair, but McNicholas testified that she told him she was reluctant to get further involved with him because he was married. "He said, 'I guess I'll just have to kill my wife,' " she testified. McNicholas received immunity from prosecution after agreeing to testify against Dicus.

Lucas did not listen to her testimony -- he sat out in the hallway reading the Ray Bradbury novel, "Something Wicked This Way Comes." He could not be in the courtroom at that time because he was a witness for the state.

After McNicholas' testimony, Lucas was on the stand for two days and then was allowed to attend the trial. Despite being called as a witness for the prosecution, Lucas left little doubt that he believes his father is innocent.

While on the stand, he recounted that sticky summer night in late July 1995 when he last saw his mother. Lucas remembered that he had fallen asleep after watching the "X-Files." He testified that he believed his mother left to "go for a drive," but never returned home.

From the beginning, the police made it clear that they considered David Dicus the main suspect.

"It was ridiculous," Lucas said, in an interview. "I could see where they were coming from, but I saw my parents interact and he loved her and he still loves her to this day. He would never hurt her."

An exceptionally bright student, Lucas found solace in school because it was the one constant in his life.

"I have some students go through trials and tribulations but not quite like this," said Andrea Parham, Lucas' guidance counselor at Old Mill High School. "He is a wonderful, very mature young man beyond his years. Without a doubt, he is very intelligent."

Lucas and his father -- who was working as a machinist for the county school system -- would often go on long drives, sometimes as far as West Virginia. "We found that relaxing," he said. "We would listen to music and talk about a lot of different things."

Unlike most teen-agers, Lucas never fought with his father over his schoolwork. "School is one of the few things I have that has remained stable," he said.

Then, last December, Dicus was arrested. "It turned everything upside down," Lucas said. "I had to move out of my apartment and pack up everything myself. I organized the packing and called friends to get them to help. I had to grow up very fast."

Almost a year has passed since his father's arrest. When Lucas visits him in the Anne Arundel County Detention Center, they both put their hands on the same spot on the glass divider. He has not been able to touch his father since the arrest. But, they talk on the phone every day.

If his father is released today, Lucas hopes to give him a hug. Then, they want to go on a long, long drive.

"Once this is over, we will be trying to get our lives back together," he said. "I want the police to leave us alone."

Sun staff writer Andrea F. Siegel contributed to this article.

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