A Bethesda lawyer accused of conspiring with her best friend to kill her estranged husband as a way of resolving a bitter child-custody battle was convicted on all counts yesterday by a Frederick County jury.
The verdict came after a two-week court battle culminating in a heated 11-hour session in the jury room.
The guilty decision against Elsa D. Newman -- on charges of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder, as well as three lesser charges -- came 10 months after Maryland's highest court threw out her conviction in Montgomery County, prompting a retrial and the movement of the case to Frederick County Circuit Court.
Prosecutors claimed that Newman, 52, became so desperate after losing custody of her two sons that she plotted with a close friend, former State Department employee Margery Lemb Landry, to kill her husband, Arlen J. Slobodow. Landry broke into Slobodow's home in Bethesda early Jan. 7, 2002, while Slobodow was sleeping in a bed with his 5-year-old son, and shot Slobodow in the leg.
Landry escaped after a struggle, but Slobodow was able to tear off the ski mask covering her face and called police. He survived the attack.
After pleading guilty in September 2002, Landry was sentenced to 20 years in prison. In the first trial, Newman also was sentenced to 20 years. But the Maryland Court of Appeals ordered a retrial in December, on the grounds that the trial court improperly compelled testimony by Stephen Friedman, who at one point served as Newman's divorce attorney.
In the retrial, Newman's attorneys argued that Landry had acted on her own and had not intended to kill Slobodow but had entered the house to find evidence that Slobodow was abusing his children.
"For the second time, I am bitterly disappointed," said Barry H. Helfand, one of Newman's attorneys, promising an appeal.
Another of Newman's attorneys, Paul V. Jorgensen, said the appeal would be argued on the grounds that the court had allowed a witness who should have been protected by attorney-client privilege and that the defense had been prohibited from introducing evidence that Slobodow had abused his children.
The jury of seven women and five men deliberated for an hour and a half Thursday and resumed yesterday at 8:30 a.m. At 4:30 p.m., Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge D. Warren Donahue asked them whether they would like to resume discussions Tuesday, but two of the jurors said they had other commitments that would make it difficult for them to attend. So they reentered the jury room, emerging drained at 7:30 p.m.
"It was just a struggle," said juror Tom Trotter, a Frederick electrician. "The majority of us thought that she was guilty from what the state presented," but two on the jury disagreed. "We all struggled with it because it's a tragedy," he said.
Katherine Winfree, a Montgomery deputy state's attorney, made a point of shaking the jurors' hands as they left the courtroom. "We are tremendously grateful and relieved that Arlen Slobodow and his children's nightmare is, at long last, at an end," she told reporters.
Newman remained expressionless as the jury foreman read the verdict, lowering her eyes briefly. Helfand stared at his table with his head in one hand while an assistant for the defense team cried quietly. Jorgensen put his arm around Newman and whispered something to her as the bailiff came up to take her to jail.