Inmate guilty in jail plot

The Baltimore Sun

A Lutherville man was convicted last night of trying to hire an inmate in the Baltimore County jail to kill a real estate developer and to burn down the home of an elderly woman but was acquitted of plotting to kill the lawyer who prosecuted him for the sexual abuse of a young girl.

Michael B. Martin, 46, took off his glasses and held his head in his hands as the verdicts were announced after nearly seven hours of deliberation.

As the jurors were led out and the judge stood to leave, Martin wept before wiping his flushed face, putting his glasses back on and bellowing to the nearly empty courtroom, "I am innocent."

The verdicts brought to a close a three-day trial that centered on whether Martin's conversations with his one-time cellmate constituted actual requests for the prosecutor, elderly woman and developer to be harmed or were simply the musings of a jailed man who had found a willing listener.

Jurors declined to discuss their decision outside the courthouse last night. But Assistant State's Attorney Allan J. Webster said that one juror told him that the evidence was unclear regarding Martin's plans concerning county prosecutor Jason League, who initially handled the 2005 sex-abuse case against Martin.

Although Martin admitted driving to League's home and offered his cellmate detailed descriptions of the prosecutor's house, neighborhood and family dogs, he also expressed concerns during the recorded conversation that the prosecutor might be too high-profile of a target.

"[The juror] said they felt everything else was so clear," Webster said of his conversation with one man on the way out of the courthouse. "They were not as sure of what he wanted done to Jason."

The nine women and three men of the jury reached their decision about 6:45 p.m.

They found Martin guilty of soliciting the murder and armed robbery of Michael Sabracos, a developer who had proposed building a child care center in Timonium that Martin and his community association opposed. The panel also convicted him of soliciting arson in the case of an elderly woman who had told members of Martin's church about the sex abuse case.

During closing arguments, Webster told jurors that the conversation recorded in jail between Martin and his cellmate amounted to far more than harmless jailhouse banter.

Referring to the point in the nearly two-hour recording when Martin's cellmate asked whether there was "any message" he wanted passed along to the developer before he was killed, Webster said, "Take that comment in that context. Is that joking around?"

Webster also reminded jurors that investigators found photographs on Martin's computers of the homes, offices and vehicles of some of the supposed targets and the details that Martin had amassed about the people -- including that the elderly woman's house had a fence but it was "not unscaleable," that her deck was wooden rather than concrete, that League's property had trees but not too many, and that the veteran prosecutor was unlikely to come "strolling up" to take out the garbage.

"Michael Martin is a prosecutor and law enforcement officer's worst nightmare," Webster said. "This is as serious as you get."

Defense attorney Steven J. Scheinin countered that any plot that existed was concocted by his client's cellmate, Timothy Bryce, a career criminal who was looking for a way out of jail.

Bryce called the county Police Department's homicide unit in January to report that Martin was trying to have a prosecutor killed and others injured. The inmate agreed to wear a wire to record a conversation in the jail with Martin. Four days later, Martin was charged with murder solicitation. And a few weeks after that, Bryce was released from the detention center -- and hasn't been found by authorities since then.

"Here he is, a con artist, who's done a pretty good con," Scheinin said in his closing argument.

On Wednesday, Webster dropped two charges of solicitation of first-degree assault involving a police detective who investigated Martin's sex-abuse case and a prosecutor who handled the subsequent witness intimidation case against him.

Baltimore County Circuit Judge Dana M. Levitz acquitted Martin of solicitation to commit second-degree murder in the fire at the elderly woman's home. The judge pointed out that Martin said during the recorded conversation in jail, "I don't want her to die. I just want her to be scared."

Martin, a former computer systems administrator and homeowners association president, is serving a one-year sentence for sexually abusing a young girl and 12 years for obstructing justice and harassing people involved with that case, including a civilian police computer expert who examined Martin's computers.

At the end of yesterday's hearing, Martin struggled briefly with the sheriff's deputies leading him to an elevator. With his ankles shackled and his wrists cuffed in front of him, Martin shouted, "You can write that I have two children who I love very much."

He is scheduled to be sentenced in January. He could get up to life in prison for solicitation of murder.

Webster said that's precisely what he'll be asking for.jennifer.mcmenamin


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