Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2008

Kelly convicted in slayings of father, daughter

Family of victims Erika Smith, 9, and her father, George Gregory Russell, say ëjustice has been served'

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Almost six years to the day after a Silver Spring man and his 9-year-old daughter were slain in their Columbia Boulevard home, jurors on Monday convicted a Washington, D.C., rapist of first-degree murder.

Huddled in Montgomery County Circuit Court, more than 20 relatives of the victims, 47-year-old George Gregory Russell and daughter Erika Smith, burst into tears and later applauded when the verdict was announced after jurors deliberated four hours.

"We know justice has been served, and that's what we've been praying for these last six years," said Bennie Russell, a brother of Gregory Russell. "Thank God this is over."

The killer, Anthony Quintin Kelly, acted as his own attorney in a case that was postponed for years because psychiatrists originally ruled that he was unfit to stand trial.

State's Attorney for Montgomery County John McCarthy, who prosecuted the case, said he will not seek the death penalty after consulting with the victims' family.

Kelly, 44, is expected to be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

"He will die in prison and that is a fair sanction," McCarthy said in a statement. "We reached this decision in light of the long, tortured history of this case and after consultation with the family."

Following a weeklong proceeding that included genetic and firearm evidence, as well as testimony from more than 40 prosecution witnesses, Kelly was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and charges of burglary and robbery with the use of a handgun in commission of a violent felony.

Kelly was convicted this summer in Montgomery County of two rapes and is scheduled to stand trial in the District for the slaying of Katie Lynn Hill, a 36-year-old Seattle tourist whose body was found two blocks from the Takoma Metro Station Aug. 9, 2002, three days after the slayings of the Silver Spring father and daughter.

Families of all three victims came from as far as Washington state to watch the trial, which began July 28. Among them was Carol Smith, Erika's mother, who testified last week and described the last time she saw her only child and her doting father.

In one of the trial's most dramatic moments, she was cross-examined by the man who killed them.

Standing with family members on Monday, Smith said she thinks her daughter would have been proud of the people who fought for six years to bring her killer to justice.

"There will never be a sense of closure," Smith said, "but I'm glad that justice will be done."

McCarthy, who also prosecuted Kelly's two rape trials, called Smith his "personal hero" and told family members that their presence undoubtedly sent a strong message to the jury.

"This is a great day," he said.

Prosecutors said that Kelly broke into Russell's home Aug. 6, 2002, wearing a wig and beard.

After climbing through a rear window, they argued, Kelly pistol-whipped and shot the girl once in her bedroom, then fired eight rounds into Russell as he ran toward his screaming daughter.

Takoma Park police pursued Kelly in a high-speed car chase while trying to make a routine traffic stop Aug. 20, 2002, but Kelly ran away, leaving handguns linked to the murder and a wig that matched fibers found at the crime scene, prosecutors said.

Kelly was apprehended Sept. 5, 2002, in College Park.

Searches of Kelly's home yielded items prosecutors said he stole from the victims, including a pocket-sized Bible that held three dollar bills.†

"This is a hard case to listen to because of the way it was done, the brutality of its crimes, and the age of one of the victims," McCarthy said Monday during closing arguments, in which he held up the handgun and wig.†

In his closing arguments, Kelly told jurors that police planted evidence on him, in his car, at his home and at the crime scene, and he repeated a line from his opening argument, "Anthony Kelly is not an evil, selfish, cold-blooded child killer."

"Ladies and gentlemen, the police story doesn't sound right," he read slowly from a yellow legal pad. "Why would anyone want to break into a home and murder a child and her father for one small pocket-sized Bible? Give me a break."

Kelly's wife, Tonya Kie, testified against him. She said he had come home with items stolen from the victims and that she now wants a divorce.

The case was unusual, McCarthy said afterward, primarily because Kelly defended himself, which forced McCarthy and Assistant State's Attorney Kathy Knight to take an atypical approach when making their argument to the jury of seven women and five men.†

"It's very difficult because I think that there are some natural sympathies that people have for him," McCarthy said. "They want him to have a fair trial."

As a prosecutor, he said, "You still have to be respectful of him. You still have to treat him as you would an opposing counsel."

In 2004, psychiatrists at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Jessup concluded that Kelly was mentally incompetent to stand trial because he did not fully understand the charges.

At that time, Judge Durke G. Thompson, who ruled over last week's proceedings, ordered that Kelly remain at the hospital.

But in December 2007, doctors at Perkins re-evaluated Kelly and found that he was competent to stand trial. One of Kelly's first acts was to dismiss his attorneys.

During the trial, Kelly was corrected by the judge several times as he struggled to make his case. McCarthy objected to Kelly's 20-minute closing argument more than a half-dozen times when Kelly referred to material that had not been submitted into evidence.

Kelly questioned the validity of wig fibers found at the crime scene, which matched those on the wig later found in his Chevy Tahoe and also contained Kelly's DNA, according to experts who testified.

"If I am going to be found guilty because of some hair on the windowsill," Kelly told the jury, "you will have to find everyone around the world guilty who has the same wig."

Prosecutors did not focus on a possible motive for Kelly's 2002 crime spree, which they say included two rapes, three murders and the theft of five handguns from a collectibles store. The victims were all strangers to Kelly and the crimes appear to have been random, they said.

"These crimes reflect a disorganized killer to some extent," McCarthy said.

A sentencing date hasn't been set.