The second suspect to face trial in the fatal shooting of Kevin M. Clarke elected to plead guilty Monday to second-degree murder because he feared a fate similar to his friend who was convicted of first-degree murder last week, a defense attorney said.
Stewart G. Burns, 21, had been scheduled to go on trial Monday on a first-degree murder charge and numerous counts of assault and weapons violations. With his pleas to second-degree murder, first-degree assault and a handgun violation in front of Calvert County Circuit Judge Warren J. Krug, Burns now faces a maximum term of 75 years when he is sentenced on Feb. 26.
In exchange for the plea, St. Mary's prosecutors dropped all other charges, including first-degree murder and several counts of assault.
Burns was accused of brandishing a handgun and urging his friend, Jeremy J. Weigle, to shoot Clarke during a confrontation at a party in Drayden on Nov. 25, 2001. Last week, a jury convicted Weigle, 21, of first-degree murder and 12 counts of assault for fatally shooting Clarke in the head during an argument over whether Weigle had used a vulgar term to describe Clarke's sister.
The trials of Weigle, Burns and Weigle's younger brother, Joshua Weigle, all charged with murder, were moved from St. Mary's to Calvert by Circuit Judge C. Clarke Raley because many of those involved in the case were well-known in St. Mary's.
Burns's defense attorney, Robert H. Harvey Jr., said his client decided to plead guilty in part because Weigle was convicted and is facing a possible prison sentence of life without parole.
"He certainly wanted to avoid that result," Harvey said of Burns.
Joshua Weigle, 19, who is also accused of brandishing a handgun during Clarke's killing, is scheduled to stand trial on murder and assault charges on Dec. 12 in Calvert. Defense attorney W. Louis Hennessy said Weigle will probably take his chances with the jury rather than enter a guilty plea.
"[Prosecutors] haven't really offered him much," Hennessy said. "A plea would get him 18 to 30 years. That's not a great disposition. We'll see what happens."