Nearly seven years after Joseph Aaron Demarest vanished from his Gambrills neighborhood, a young man who has pleaded guilty to the teen-ager's murder described in court how he and another man buried Demarest alive instead of paying him for two pounds of marijuana.
During graphic testimony yesterday that left Demarest's family in tears, Christopher Allen Bolen, 24, told jurors in Stefan Tyson Bell's first-degree murder trial that Bell stabbed Demarest through the neck and beat him with a 3-foot pipe before dragging him to a shallow grave the two had dug a day earlier.
"We could hear moaning under the ground as we walked away," Bolen said, his voice often fading to a mumble.
Bell, 25, has pleaded not guilty. If convicted in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, he could face life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Prosecutors said they expect the trial to last about a week.
Two months ago, Bolen pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in Demarest's death as part of an agreement with prosecutors that required him to testify against Bell. Under the terms of the deal, Bolen will be sentenced to no more than 55 years in prison.
Witnesses yesterday, particularly Bolen, portrayed Bell as a cold young man who expressed no remorse about killing Demarest, a 17-year-old budding artist who had been home-schooled since the seventh grade.
Bolen said he and Bell "drifted apart" after the murder but would talk whenever detectives approached either of them about the case. Although Anne Arundel County police detectives interviewed the young men numerous times between 1996 and their arrests in January, Bolen said Bell was confident that the two had "committed the perfect murder."
Detectives who testified yesterday afternoon said the case shifted from missing persons to homicide in November 2000, when detectives recovered a pipe and a knife, later identified as the weapons used to kill Demarest, from a neighbor's house. Shawn Finnegan, 40, testified yesterday that he used to smoke cocaine and marijuana with Bell, with whom he lived in the fall of 1996, and with Bolen.
For years, Demarest's family had no idea what happened to Joseph, whom they called "Joey." His father, Mike Demarest, used to drive around the neighborhood where Bell and Bolen, then teen-agers, had told him they had dropped his son off the night he disappeared.
It wasn't until June 2001 that police told the Demarests that they had evidence the teen-ager had been killed.
Mike Demarest testified yesterday morning that his son was cheerful when he left the family's home on Red Fall Lane the evening of Sept. 3, 1996. Joseph Demarest said he was going to visit a friend.
Mike Demarest broke into sobs when he told jurors that his son's last words to him were "See you later, Pop."
In testimony yesterday, Bolen and another witness, neighborhood friend Joel Quigley, described Demarest as a local marijuana dealer who had given Bell two pounds of marijuana worth about $3,200. Bell was to pay Demarest for the drugs after selling them, Bolen testified.
In August 1996, Bell realized that he and his friends had smoked most of the drugs and would not be able to pay back Demarest, Bolen told jurors.
Bell decided to kill the teen-ager by stabbing him once in the neck and burying him in the woods, Bolen testified, adding that he went along with the scheme and never tried to dissuade Bell.
Several days after devising the plan, the pair drove deep into a popular off-roading area near the Prince George's County line called "yellow gates" and dug a 4-foot-deep grave.
The next day, Bolen testified, Bell and Bolen lured Demarest into Bell's red pickup by telling him they would drive to Glen Burnie, where he could pick up the drug money he was owed. They said they would go four-wheeling until the Glen Burnie man who had the money arrived home from work.
All did not go as planned in the woods, Bolen testified.
Bell stabbed Demarest in the back of the neck with a filleting knife, but the teen-ager did not die instantly, Bolen testified.
As Demarest pulled the knife from his neck and pleaded with his companions to take him to the hospital, Bell retrieved a thin pole from his truck and began beating him on the back and head, Bolen testified.
Bolen said he "freaked out and started crying," and hid behind the pickup during the attack. Bolen said a bloodied Demarest made eye contact with him and begged for help, but that he cried back to Demarest, "I can't. I can't."
Joseph Demarest's sister, Rachel, sobbed throughout Bolen's hourlong testimony. Other relatives dabbed their eyes and occasionally wept. Across the courtroom, Bell's relatives showed no emotion. Both families declined to talk during breaks in the trial.
In the years before the arrests, Bolen said, he became increasingly talkative about the murder. Bolen said he told several girlfriends, a few friends and one of Demarest's friends what had happened in the fall of 1996. Some of them tipped off police, county detectives said.
"I just couldn't keep it bottled up no more," Bolen testified yesterday. "It was driving me crazy. It was eating me up."