Upon this both sides agree: On Sept. 3, 1996, two Gambrills teen-agers drove Joseph Aaron Demarest into the woods and buried their beaten neighbor alive instead of paying him the $2,000 they owed him for marijuana.
Left unclear is what unfolded in the moments before the burial, when Demarest was stabbed in the neck with a fishing fillet knife and bludgeoned with a 3-foot length of pipe.
Last night, an Anne Arundel County jury began weighing the case against Stefan Tyson Bell, now 25 and on trial on first-degree murder charges in the killing of Demarest.
Seven years ago, the 17- year-old home-schooled artist cheerfully waved goodbye to his dad one night, never to return to the family's home on Red Fall Lane in Gambrills. The mystery of his disappearance ended in January when Anne Arundel County police arrested Bell and Christopher Allen Bolen, who led detectives to Demarest's remains.
Jurors were expected to resume deliberations at 8:30 a.m. today.
Yesterday's closing arguments ended three days of graphic testimony, including from Bell and Bolen, that often left Demarest's relatives in tears.
The two men testified that they could hear Demarest moaning as they shoveled dirt over his badly beaten body, which they buried in a 4-foot-deep grave at a popular four-wheeling area called "yellow gates" near the Prince George's County line.
They both said they dug the grave together, but each blamed the other for Demarest's death.
Bell says it was Bolen, now 24, who attacked Demarest in the woods that day. But Bolen, who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in June, says Bell was the one who stabbed and beat Demarest. He 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."
If convicted of first-degree murder, Bell could face life in prison without the possibility of parole. Under the terms of his agreement, Bolen will serve no more than 55 years.
Prosecutor M. Virginia Miles says that regardless of which young man took the lead in the killing, Bell should be convicted of first-degree murder -- not the lesser charge of manslaughter that his attorneys have pushed for during the trial.
"Stefan Bell put a live person in a hole and covered it up with dirt ... ," Miles said during closing arguments yesterday. "Whether he also did the stabbing or he did the bludgeoning, he's guilty of murder."
But during the defense's closing arguments, Bell's attorney, Theresa Moore, asked jurors: "Do you want this person to pay for something that's not their role?"
She has contended that Bolen stabbed and beat Demarest and that Bell only helped drag the boy to his grave and shovel dirt over him because he was afraid of Bolen.
Witnesses have described Bolen and Bell as hot-tempered drug addicts. The two used to smoke marijuana and crack in a neighbor's garage, according to testimony.
Bolen has lived in the Four Seasons neighborhood of Gambrills most of his life, and he attended elementary school with Demarest. Bell, whose father was in the military, said he has lived all over the world.
Bell rocked gently during his testimony yesterday and broke into sobs when he told jurors about his wife and 8-month-old son. Bell's relatives have sat stone-faced on his side of the courtroom throughout the trial.
"He's a goofy kid who has made numerous stupid mistakes," Moore said about Bell during closing arguments.
It was Bell who owed Demarest -- identified throughout the trial as a neighborhood drug dealer -- for the 2 pounds of marijuana he had been fronted about three months before the killing.
During direct examination Tuesday, Bolen said he and Bell hatched a plan to lure Demarest into the woods and stab him to death instead of paying him. Bell said he and his friends had smoked most of the drugs instead of selling them, but he claimed he only wanted to "rough up" Demarest when the three drove into the woods that night.
Demarest had been "harassing" Bell about the money, he said yesterday.
The evening he disappeared, Demarest hopped into Bell's red Chevrolet S-10 pickup truck with Bell and Bolen, friend Joel Quigley testified.
According to Bolen's testimony, the two had lured Demarest into the truck with a made-up story about how they'd drive him to pick up his money in Glen Burnie. A day earlier, Bolen said, the two had dug Demarest's grave.
Bell yesterday disputed much of Bolen's testimony.
In the nearly five years that Demarest was labeled a missing person, his father, Mike Demarest, searched for any clue that could help him figure out what had happened to his son. He tacked up fliers and persistently talked to neighborhood kids -- particularly Bell and Bolen, who had been identified as the last people to see him.
They were identified as suspects in June 2001 and arrested in January. A day after their arrest, on Jan. 8, Bolen led police to Demarest's remains.
The family, which had decided not to hold services until they had his body, buried him that month.