Keith Allen Green was found guilty of second-degree murder yesterday by a Prince George's County Circuit Court jury in the 1997 strangulation of 13-year-old Claudia Pickeral of St. Mary's County.
The jury deliberated for four hours before convicting Green, 35, a former neighbor of the girl's from Longview Beach, a rural community in St. Mary's County. Claudia, a Leonardtown Middle School student, was grabbed and strangled as she walked home from a school bus stop on Feb. 19, 1997.
Green showed no reaction as the verdict was read, and most of the spectators in the courtroom, which was crowded with family members and supporters of Green and Claudia's family, also sat quietly. Prince George's Circuit Court Judge G.R. Hovey Johnson, who presided over the three-day trial, had warned against courtroom outbursts in the case, which has galvanized emotions in St. Mary's County for more than two years.
Claudia Thompson, the girl's mother, clutched a tissue box during the verdict and later wept openly. She and Claudia's stepfather, Michael Thompson, said afterward that they did not want to speak to reporters. The two had campaigned for 19 months for the arrest of their daughter's killer.
Michael Thompson's father, Clarence Thompson, 61, of Maddox, said that family members were "happy" with the verdict even though Green was not convicted of first-degree murder. He added, "There will always be a hurt there.
"It has finally come to an end," he said. "He did not get away with murder. It's as simple as that."
Green's attorney, Julian Izydore, declined to comment.
Green could be sent to prison for a maximum of 30 years when he is sentenced Sept. 17.
Green's mother, Marion Green, 77, of St. Petersburg, Fla., said that she is "very upset" and that she is worried that her son might try to commit suicide. "My son never did anything wrong," she said.
But supporters on both sides expressed relief that the long ordeal surrounding the killing might finally be over.
Claudia's slaying became a cause celebre in the mostly rural county of 83,000 in Southern Maryland after police and prosecutorial missteps resulted in no arrest for 19 months. The case was moved from St. Mary's to Prince George's because of extensive pretrial publicity.
Because of the apparent errors made in the investigation, St. Mary's County State's Attorney Richard Fritz (R) was left with a case that was almost entirely circumstantial, and he relied primarily on comments Green made to police and others in the weeks after the child's slaying.
Although authorities had estimated that the trial would take two weeks, the prosecution rested after a little more than a day of testimony, and the defense presented only three witnesses.
Fritz said in his closing argument yesterday that Green killed Claudia after she fought back when he tried to rape her.
"Keith Green was attempting to put the moves on her. He became sexually aroused. . . . Claudia Pickeral completely rejected his advances. She was struck, bludgeoned three times in the head" and ultimately strangled, Fritz told the jury.
Izydore argued that the state lacked the forensic evidence--"no fingerprints, no matching hairs . . . nothing"--needed to convict Green.
Fritz said after the verdict that he was pleased, that he was not surprised the jury had chosen the lesser charge and that he expected the judge to sentence Green to the maximum.
"There were absolutely no eyewitnesses," Fritz said. "Nothing to show the intent and ferocity of the attack. . . . But the jury decided there was no question Keith Allen Green committed this murder."
Jurors could not be reached for comment.
Nace Bowman, the president of the Justice for Claudia Committee, said that, despite the verdict, the wounds left by the child's death were far from salved in Longview Beach. "These are people who used to be friends, who are still upset with each other," he said. "I don't think there is anything to celebrate. There is still a healing process going on."
CAPTION: A jury convicted Keith Allen Green, above, after four hours of deliberation in his trial in the slaying of 13-year-old Claudia Pickeral of St. Mary's County.