Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2007

Frederick man sentenced to time served for 1993 Boyds beating death

First-degree murder charge reduced to manslaughter after new DNA test

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A Frederick man charged with the 1993 first-degree murder of the estranged husband of his then-girlfriend pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter last month.

Prosecutors said they didn’t have a strong case after 48-year-old Kenneth Lee Claggett’s DNA could not be found on a key piece of evidence. Claggett was sentenced Nov. 27 to 10 years in prison with all but 223 day suspended, and then given credit for the time he has spent in jail since May for the charges. An arson charge was dropped, and he was given five years of unsupervised probation.

He was released from jail Nov. 27.

Prosecutors say Claggett, of the 100 block of Willowdale Drive, beat Nelson Minter, 36, in the bedroom of his home on Dec. 3, 1993, and then set the house on fire.

Montgomery County Police and fire rescue workers discovered the body of Minter, who was struck seven times in the head, at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 3 at his home, which had smoldered for about 15 hours but not burned down, prosecutors said. Investigators said there were signs of struggle and found an empty bottle of Zippo lighter fluid, an accelerant that is usually undetectable, according to prosecutors.

Claggett was charged with the crime in February 1994, but the charges were dropped 14 days later due to insufficient evidence, according to a county State’s Attorney’s Office statement.

Claggett was charged with first-degree murder in May after a DNA test conducted earlier this year found Minter’s blood on a camouflage jacket found at Claggett’s mother’s house during the initial investigation. A test conducted last month on the sleeves, armpits and collar of the coat identified the DNA of Karen Minter, the victim’s estranged wife, and another unidentified person, but not Claggett, according to his attorney, Chip Lipscomb.

‘‘It was a long, hard week of negotiations,” Lipscomb said. ‘‘...It’s a situation where everybody wins a little bit.”

The age of the case and credibility concerns regarding witnesses and evidence contributed to the deal, according to the State’s Attorney’s Office statement.

Nelson Minter’s family learned of the deal the day before the sentencing, said his older sister, Cindy Minter, who caught a red-eye flight from California to attend the proceedings. As part of the arrangement, she and her mother, Mary Jane Alexander of Potomac, were not allowed in the courtroom until after Claggett entered his plea.

‘‘He was not willing to look my mother in the eye and say, ‘I killed your son,’” Cindy Minter said last week. She added that Claggett, who declined to speak during the sentencing, had not apologized.

‘‘The most healing outcome for all of us is for him to tell us he’s sorry... We’ve gotten on with our lives over these 14 years, but we can’t really get closure until we get a chance to forgive,” she said.

Alexander remembered her son as generous and charismatic with a dry sense of humor.

‘‘He had a way of throwing the best light on any situation,” she said last week. ‘‘My daughter used to say he could turn lemons into lemonade.”