A Clarksburg man who is appealing his second-degree murder conviction for stabbing a priest to death in 2000 must prove that his defense attorneys did not properly represent him at trial.
Robert Paul Lucas’ current attorneys are arguing that his former attorneys should have objected to comments made by prosecutors during closing arguments at his August 2001 trial.
At a hearing Sept. 20, Judge Sharon V. Burrell gave Lucas until Oct. 10 to submit an updated transcript detailing the objectionable statements.
Lucas, 37, was found guilty of the second-degree murder of Monsignor Thomas Wells, 56, a pastor at the Mother Seton Parish in Germantown. Lucas was also found guilty of robbery with a dangerous weapon and first-degree burglary and was ultimately sentenced to 42 and a half years.
Wells was found dead from multiple stab wounds in his bedroom at the Germantown rectory after he was missed during morning mass on June 8, 2000. The wife of Lucas’ employer began to suspect his involvement in the murder about a week later and police arrested him after discovering Lucas wearing boots that matched bloody prints left at the scene, court documents state.
Upon his arrest, Lucas confessed to the murder. During the trial, Lucas said Wells sexually assaulted him after Lucas drunkenly broke into the rectory looking for a place to clean up, Montgomery County Assistant State’s Attorney Ann Bosse said.
The Maryland Court of Appeals declined an earlier appeal by Lucas submitted in 2003 based on claims that the judge made prejudicial statements to the jury during his trial. His latest appeal, filed in July 2011, faults Lucas’ defense attorneys, then-Assistant Public Defenders Brian Shefferman and Mary Siegfried.
Margaret Lanier, Lucas’ current attorney, described the prosecution’s closing arguments as “beyond the pale.” She also criticized Shefferman for not objecting to the state’s closing, which she said unfairly portrayed Lucas and his attorneys as “liars and cheaters,” to the jury. Shefferman, now the county public defender, testified at the hearing last week, but claimed he did not recall specifically why neither he nor Siegried objected at the time.
“It’s really close to impossible to imagine a reasonable reason for not objecting to a closing argument that impugns the character of the [defense] attorneys and which burdens the defendant’s right to silence,” Lanier told Burrell. “What we have is a trial whose result is fundamentally unfair as a result of a closing argument which was improper in the extreme.”
Bosse, who defended Shefferman and Siegfried’s conduct in the 2001 trial, pointed out that the jury’s verdict itself tended to indicate the prosecution’s closing arguments — and those of the defense — were not prejudicial. Neither the prosecution’s first-degree felony murder charge nor the defense’s manslaughter claims were reflected in the jury’s final verdict, she said.
“The jury was not focused on the arguments that counsel had made. They were focused on the evidence. They were focused on the law,” she said.
Lucas also cited his former attorneys’ failure to request specific jury instructions at his trial, the handling of a jury note during deliberations and the state’s attorney’s office’s statements to the press before his trial in his latest appeal, the documents state.