The sorrow of two families overwhelmed an Anne Arundel County courtroom yesterday as a Glen Burnie man was convicted of first-degree murder in the 1995 death of his wife.
Circuit Judge Ronald A. Silkworth said that while "a few pieces of the puzzle may be missing," he was convinced that David A. Dicus, 41, had strangled his wife, Terry L. Keefer.
The Dicus and Keefer families cried and hugged as the judge explained his verdict, but it was Lucas Dicus -- the couple's 15-year-old son -- who weighed on the minds of many in the courtroom, including police officers who arrested his father last year.
Lucas, who said last week he could not believe his father would kill his mother, broke into uncontrollable sobs as Silkworth announced the verdict.
He was comforted by his father's sisters. But as the courtroom cleared, his maternal grandmother, Muriel Keefer, with whom he had a strained relationship, reminded him that she loved him.
Lucas stayed with his maternal grandparents when his father was arrested. He moved in with family friends in July, when police seized letters from his father -- including one that suggested witness tampering -- after relatives found them.
David Dicus faces a maximum sentence of life in prison when he is sentenced Jan. 21.
Assistant State's Attorney Frank Ragione said that while he was pleased with the judge's verdict, he felt sorrow for Keefer's family. "They've lost not only a daughter but a son-in-law also. It is a bittersweet day for them."
Members of the Keefer family, with buttons of the 37-year-old murder victim pinned to their jackets, spoke of the killing as a nightmare.
"Maybe the healing can start now," said Donald Keefer of Pasadena, the victim's father.
Defense attorney Gill Cochran said Dicus, who showed no emotion when the verdict was announced, voiced concern for his son. Cochran had hoped to win a not-guilty verdict by poking holes in the prosecution's case. He said he will seek a new trial.
Terry Keefer disappeared the night of July 28, 1995, when, according to testimony, Dicus strangled her in bed. Her body was found Sept. 7 near Scaggsville.
The trial pivoted on a version of events provided by Catherine S. McNicholas, Dicus' lover at the time of his wife's death. For three years, she told police she knew nothing about Keefer's slaying. But a story she told an ex-boyfriend reached police last year.
Faced with being charged as an accessory to murder, she received immunity after telling police that Dicus explained to her how he killed his wife and that she helped dump Keefer's body the day after she was slain.
Silkworth said that despite McNicholas' mental health problems, which the defense brought out, he found her credible. She gave details, such as the position of Keefer's body and the color of the blanket in which the body was wrapped, that police corroborated.
The judge said Dicus' behavior in the aftermath of his wife's disappearance -- reported to police on July 30 -- was not consistent with that of a worried or grieving spouse.
After police questioned Dicus in early August, Dicus told a neighbor that "they should be out looking for the real killer." But as far as anyone knew, Keefer was not dead.
"Only the killer would know that," Silkworth said.