Moments before she was fatally shot and then set afire, Stephanie Ann Roper, a Frostburg State art student from Prince George's County, asked to be released so she could return home to finish a painting she was working on, one of two men charged with killing her testified today.
Jerry Lee Beatty, 17, of Waldorf said he wanted to let her go but feared that if he did his own life would be in jeopardy from codefendant Jack Ronald Jones, 26, who had briefly left an abandoned house in rural St. Mary's County where both men had just raped her.
"She asked me if I was gonna shoot her," Beatty testified. "I said no. She asked if Jack would shoot her. I said I didn't think he would . . . I figured he had enough sense not to do anything like that.
"She asked if I could let her go. I said I wanted to but I couldn't because I wouldn't know what would happen to me. I figured if I didn't do what [Jones] said, my life might be in danger.
"She said she wanted to go back and finish this painting. That's all she said to me," he said. Shortly after their conversaton, Beatty said, Jones returned, hit her over the head with a logging chain and gunned her down when she tried to escape.
Beatty, his left arm bearing the tattoo image of an executioner, was the state's final witness in Jones' trial for the abduction, rape and slaying April 3 of Roper, a college senior who had come home for the weekend from the Western Maryland school.
Beatty, scheduled to be tried separately next month, spoke softly, almost in a monotone, and often answered with a respectful "Yes, sir," to the questions of St. Mary's State's Attorney C. Clarke Raley. But his demeanor turned surly, if not defiant, in responding to cross-examination.
Replying to questions by defense counsel E. Allen Shephard, Beatty said he had decided to testify in the case after his attorney told him he would almost certainly not receive the death penalty if Jones was convicted of firing the fatal shot.
Beatty's account of the abduction and rape generally paralleled one Jones gave police April 12. It differed on the crucial point of who fired the fatal shot in a lonely wooded area near the shores of the Patuxent River. Jones told police he did not know Roper had been shot.
Beatty said he and Jones had been drinking heavily and using drugs such as marijuana, PCP and "speed" for several hours before they happened upon Roper and her disabled car on a deserted country road in Prince George's County. Roper, 22, had run her car off the road half a mile from the home of her college roommate, with whom she had spent the evening at a District of Columbia disco bar, according to testimony.
Instead of taking her to a friend's home as promised, Beatty said, they took turns raping her in the car and then proceeded to the Oakville section of St. Mary's County, to the abandoned house not far from Jones' residence.
After they raped her again in the abandoned house, Beatty said, he uttered Jones' nickname, "Bump." He said Jones then told him, " 'You know what we're gonna have to do?' He said we'd have to shoot her. I said, 'No way, you can do whatever you want, but I ain't getting involved in that.' "
It was foggy, "the break of dawn," Beatty said, when Jones left them to get some gasoline from his car. Roper then ran out a hole in the building, followed by Beatty who caught up with her and grabbed her by the arm.
Beatty said he had left Jones' rifle, which each had held while the other raped Roper, by a tree. Under cross-examination, he recanted earlier statements and acknowledged hitting her in the face after she had kneed him in the groin. Beatty then testified he had told police "very few" falsehoods in a statement after his arrest.
Beatty said Roper ran away a second time after Jones hit her with a chain. "She grabbed her head with both hands and said, 'What are you doing?' " After Beatty refused Jones' command to shoot her, Beatty testified, Jones grabbed the gun, overtook her and shot her.
It was shortly afterward, Beatty said, that Jones poured gasoline over her prostrate body and lit the match. Beatty said he doused the flames with water after a few minutes because "I couldn't stand it no more," and then helped Jones drag her to a stump hole in a nearby swamp.
"I told him I ain't never did anything like that before in my life," Beatty said. "He said, 'I ain't either.' "
Afterward, Beatty said, Jones said they must "get rid of her feet, her hands, her head, so they couldn't identify the body."
Beatty said he and Jones returned to the scene with a hatchet a day or so later, but "he changed his mind." He said Jones later directed him to do the job but he didn't. On Easter Sunday morning, Beatty said, Jones told him, "I figured you wouldn't [do it]. I should have done it myself."
Roper's charred and mutilated body was discovered by state troopers that weekend, with both hands missing.
Beatty's testimony ended the state's case on the fifth day of the trial. Jones' court-appointed attorneys also rested their case after putting on only one defense witness -- a state trooper -- in an effort to discredit Beatty.