A Frederick County contractor who is the focus of a financial fraud investigation was convicted yesterday of murder in the slaying of a psychologist who prosecutors said lost money in the alleged scam.

Randall H. Gerlach, 57, of Mount Airy was found guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Rodney Cocking, a researcher for the National Science Foundation whose body was found in June in a remote wooded area in Frederick. Gerlach, who is to be sentenced June 25 in Carroll County Circuit Court, could be imprisoned for life without parole.

A father of two and a longtime resident of Mount Airy, Gerlach had maintained his innocence since his arrest in June. His attorney, Barry Helfand, said an appeal of the verdict is "inevitable."

"This was an extraordinarily difficult case," Helfand said. "I'm obviously disappointed, but I hope that I preserved enough on the record to help my client in an appeal."

The jury deliberated for about three hours yesterday.

During the two-week trial, prosecutors claimed that Gerlach swindled Cocking, 59, out of $300,000 in an investment scam and that after Cocking demanded repayment, Gerlach killed him at Cocking's home near the Carroll community of New Windsor. Prosecutors also alleged that Gerlach swindled members of his family out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. No charges have been filed against Gerlach in the alleged fraud, which is being investigated by federal authorities.

Gerlach was arrested June 5, two weeks before a man walking his dog found Cocking's decomposed remains in Frederick Municipal Forest, north of the city of Frederick.

Police said they found blood in the bed of Gerlach's truck and on a sock in the truck's cab. They said DNA tests showed the blood matched Cocking's.

Cocking, who was nationally prominent in the field of developmental psychology, had known Gerlach for almost a decade. They became friends after Gerlach did remodeling work on Cocking's house.

Cocking's sister, Darlene Gies, and Cocking's friend Walter Schultz, who first reported Cocking missing, are "saddened by the whole thing," Carroll County Assistant State's Attorney David Daggett said yesterday. "They felt anger towards Gerlach, but they didn't feel hatred."