Murtha to defend suspect in 1991 killing


A Virginia man awaiting retrial since 1996 in a decade-old murder case has hired a lawyer known for his representation of Linda Tripp in her Howard County wiretapping case.

Adel George Hagez's decision to hire attorney Joseph Murtha - replacing New York lawyer Samuel A. Abady, who was thrown off the case in July - restarts the clock in a case that stalled after appeals ran out last year. It has been five years since the Court of Special Appeals overturned Hagez's murder conviction, saying a prosecutor's actions interfered with Hagez's right to a fair trial.

During a brief hearing in Howard County Circuit Court yesterday, Murtha said he expects to file documents in court this week declaring his representation of Hagez.

"I'm happy to see you, Mr. Murtha," Judge Lenore R. Gelfman said.

In a 17-page ruling issued in July, Gelfman removed Abady from the case, saying he has "impeded the process of this case" because he has been "very difficult to contact" and missed court dates. He also has "misquoted and misrepresented information," she wrote. "Mr. Abady has behaved unprofessionally and in violation of this Court's instructions and orders."

Yesterday, Abady, who represented Hagez in the successful appeal overturning his conviction and in the unsuccessful attempts to bar retrial, said by phone from New York that he believes he was taken off the case because he was "aggressive" in his representation.

"With all due respect to Judge Gelfman, her ruling was baseless and, in my opinion, was retaliatory," he said.

Hagez, 53, of Glen Allen, Va., was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison in 1993 in the shooting death of his cousin, Riad S. Hijaz, in 1991. Hijaz was killed in the Jessup hotel room in which Hagez's then ex-wife was staying while she ran a food booth at the Columbia City Fair.

By the time of the trial, the Hagezes had remarried, and Virginia Hagez, who had pointed investigators to Adel Hagez's car in which a revolver with six spent cartridges was found, balked at answering questions posed while she was on the witness stand.

In its 1996 decision, the Court of Special Appeals cited the prosecutor's treatment of Virginia Hagez. The prosecutor went too far in the questioning of Virginia Hagez and in references to her silence in closing arguments, the judges said.

Yesterday, Murtha said he believes a retrial of the case is still about six months away. Adel Hagez has been on pretrial supervision for the past five years with no violations, he said.

"It's taken an incredible toll," Murtha said after the hearing. "He's spent 10 years anticipating what the final resolution of the case would be."

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