Two of the five persons charged with aiding a Suitland woman in the contract killing of her husband last December pleaded guilty yesterday to murder charges in Prince George's County Circuit Court.
Under Maryland law, defendants who plead guilty waive their rights to a trial, usually in return for having some of the charges dropped. In the cases of George Bernard Harvey, 22, a house painter from Aquasco, and John Penkert III, 26, a construction worker from Brandywine, not only were some of the charges dropped, but the state prosecutor's office also agreed to retract its request for the death penalty.
Harvey, who pleaded guilty to murder, allegedly fired the gun that killed 20 year-old Michael Hoffmann, a stock room clerk at Andrews Air Force Base; Penkert, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder, allegedly recruited a friend to help with the murder, watched while Hoffmann was killed and helped dispose of the body.
According to court documents, Hoffmann's wife Donna, 18, drove her husband to an isolated area near Aquasco, in the southern part of Prince George's County, where five men were waiting. When Michael Hoffmann got out of the car, he was shot to death -- in the head and chest -- in the presence of his wife and the five men.
In addition to Penkert and Harvey, two other defendants, Stephen Troese Jr., 18, a student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and Jeffrey Scott Whittaker, 18, a student at Johns Hopkins University, pleaded guilty last month to a charge of conspiracy to commit murder.
None of the four has been sentenced, although the prosecutor's office has agreed to make certain recommendations to the judge on the length of the sentences. The recommendation in Penkert's case is that he receive a life sentence, with all but 40 years of the sentence suspended. The recommendation in Harvey's case is that he receive a life sentence.
Trials are still scheduled for the remaining two defendants, Donna Hoffmann and Michael Naquin, 21.
In court yesterday, assistant state's attorney Michael Whelan read a "statement of facts" about the murder agreed to by both Harvey and Penkert. According to the statement, the six began planning the murder about 10 hours before it occurred, on Dec. 15, when Penkert contacted his friend Troese, and told him that Hoffmann wanted to have her husband killed.
Around 4 p.m., according to the statement, the six defendants met at Troese's home to discuss the location and time of the murder, and the problem of disposing the body. It was decided that Hoffmann would drive her husband to Aquasco Farm Road, where the others would meet them.
There, according to the statement, the rest of the group watched as Harvey shot Hoffmann in the chest and head. Afterward, as they were driving from the scene, Donna Hoffmann paid Harvey $100.