The 20-year-old son of a career thief who received 30 years in prison Tuesday in the stabbing death of her boyfriend entered a guilty plea yesterday to a charge that he helped dispose of the body.
Matthew Haarhoff was released from jail after more than two years awaiting trial. But Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Pamela L. North tacked on one condition to the plea agreement that led to his release: Haarhoff can have no contact with his mother, Cynthia J. McKay, for one year.
"You need a recess from her," North said. "It may help you in the long run to get you on your feet and to see if you can make something of yourself on your own."
Haarhoff's plea to being an accessory after the fact represented the final conviction in the murder of Tony Fertitta, 50, whose body was found ablaze beside a Millersville road in February 2006.
Investigators said Fertitta's girlfriend, McKay, had been stealing from him and stabbed him to death after he discovered the thefts. They said she called her sons to help dispose of the body, which was doused in gasoline and set on fire. Haarhoff's older brother, Christopher, pleaded guilty in the fall to being an accessory after the fact and received a five-year prison sentence.
Haarhoff entered an Alford plea, in which a defendant does not admit guilt but acknowledges that the state has enough evidence to convict. The agreement had been contingent on his mother's conviction.
On Wednesday, the 52-year-old McKay, aware of the ramifications, unsuccessfully attempted to rescind her Alford plea to second-degree murder and said that she was finally ready to discuss her side of the case. She contended that Fertitta accidentally stabbed himself during a fight in their Old Mill townhouse; she also backed up Haarhoff's assertion that he was not present.
Prosecutors, however, said that key evidence suggested Haarhoff, who was 17 at the time, was involved. He allegedly told friends that he had killed Fertitta himself, though those accounts did not mesh with the evidence.
Defense attorney David Putzi said the confessions were the acts of a scared teen trying to throw investigators off his mother's trail.
"I've joked that if given the opportunity, Matt would've confessed to taking the Lindbergh baby," he told North.
Haarhoff also claimed never to have been in Fertitta's loaner truck, where police found a bloody knife. The truck is believed to have been used to transport the body. But his DNA - from sweat - was found on the steering wheel.
Prosecutor Virginia Miles said Haarhoff spent time in the home with his girlfriend the day after the killing, when investigators believe the floor would still have been coated with Fertitta's blood.
"There's no alarm, no calling police, no query by him as to the horrible thing that has happened," Miles told North. "He stays in the home most of the day without raising [an] alarm."
Haarhoff was initially charged with first-degree murder, and Miles said his erratic behavior during the investigation greatly complicated detectives' efforts. But she acknowledged the enormous sway that McKay had over her children, calling his upbringing - which has included foster homes and institutions while his mother served prison sentences - "very, very sad."
Putzi described McKay as selfish for involving her children in a crime, for passing up opportunities to tell investigators the version of events that she revealed this week and exonerate her son, and for trying to withdraw her plea, knowing that doing so could extend Haarhoff's time in jail.
Under the plea agreement, Haarhoff received an 18-month suspended sentence followed by three years of probation, two of them supervised. North said she would allow Haarhoff to move his probation to Florida, where he hopes to reunite with his father.
It was North's idea to require Haarhoff to avoid contact with his mother: no visits, no phone calls and no letters, including those which McKay sends to him.
"Hopefully, he can cut those ties [to his mother] and move on with his life," Putzi said.