Timothy Joseph Buzbee was found guilty yesterday of rape and kidnaping in the first of the Aspen Hill rape trials, a verdict that brought sobs from family mem- bers on both sides of the emotional case.
"Mr. Foreman, please stand," the court clerk read as soon as the jurors had filed into the hushed Montgomery County courtroom.
"Is Timothy Joseph Buzbee guilty or not guilty . . . as to rape in the first degree?"
"Guilty," came the foreman's response.
Buzbee's mother screamed, "Oh, my God," and began to weep as the foreman, his hands shaking, also pronounced the 25-year-old defendant guilty of kidnaping, burglary and a first-degree sexual offense.
Only two people in the hot, crowded courtroom remained expressionless as the verdicts were read-- Buzbee and the 16-year-old victim who had given crucial testimony against him in three harrowing hours on the witness stand one week ago. Buzbee stared at the jury, while she sat, head bowed and hands clenched, in the courtroom's front row.
The jury that had deliberated for more than five hours found Buzbee guilty of breaking into her Aspen Hill home, blindfolding and gagging her and then driving her to his parents' empty home and raping her. Buzbee is facing rape charges in three upcoming Aspen Hill cases. He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
The verdict marked the culmination of nearly two years of work by law enforcement authorities seeking to solve a series of rapes that had terrorized the upper-middle-income Aspen Hill community.
Buzbee could be sentenced to separate terms of life in prison for both the rape and sexual offense convictions. Kidnapping carries a maximum of 30 years in jail and burglary a maximum of 20 years. Circuit Court Judge John J. Mitchell set sentencing for June 9.
Defense attorney Reginald W. Bours III said yesterday afternoon he and the Buzbee family are convinced the verdict was a "tragic error" and he will immediately ask the judge for a new trial.
"We also believe the jury's verdict is attributable in large part to false, incorrect or insufficient evidence, and we will present everything we can gather to the trial judge," he said.
The jurors found Buzbee guilty in the second vote they took yesterday, according to jury foreman John Hinton Jr. and juror Dorothy S. Wohl. Both said the sum of evidence presented by Assistant State's Attorney Barry Hamilton had convinced them of Buzbee's guilt.
The victim's identification of Buzbee's voice in a telephone voice lineup conducted by police had been persuasive, according to Wohl, as well as details the victim provided of the house and the neighborhood where she was taken to be raped.
"Of course, there were discrepancies," Wohl said, "but we felt that overall she had him nailed. We felt he . . . was the right man."
She said that when Buzbee took the stand and testified, the jurors "all heard a voice impediment" like the impediment the victim ascribed to her attacker. "The way he spoke was unusual," Wohl said. "It sounded to me like something was wrong with the upper palate."
Minutes after the verdict was read, the victim, smiling shyly, quietly told reporters she was "relieved" at the jury's finding. "I'm glad if it helped other people," she said, referring to victims in the other Aspen Hill rapes.
No charges were placed in a number of those crimes. Buzbee was indicted on five counts of rape and one of attempted rape. Two of those cases since have been dropped by prosecutors.
In a brief statement to the press in the courthouse lobby, the victim's mother said: "Our 21-month ordeal is over. . . . I just pray that our daughter can resume the young life that was criminally shattered by this guilty man. . . . It has been absolute hell for her."
Meanwhile, just outside the courtroom where the eight-day trial had taken place, about a dozen members of the Buzbee family huddled together on couches and chairs.
"I have only one comment," said the defendant's father William Buzbee Sr., who had begun quietly weeping when the verdicts were read.
"The only comment I have is go look, come to my house and look at the floor tiles in the foyer and go through the shrubbery and see if what the state said is true," the elder Buzbee bitterly told two reporters.
The prosecution had theorized that Buzbee took the victim to his parents' home after parking in a schoolyard that backs up to the Buzbee property in Flower Valley and walking his blindfolded victim through the yard and into the home's front entrance way.
The victim testified she could see from under her blindfold and the details she provided about her walk to the house were crucial to the prosecution's case. For instance, she testified the home's foyer was tiled in blue squares and rectangles.
The defense has maintained the tiles in the foyer were black, and several Buzbee family members testified to that fact. A policewoman who visited the home to take photographs and another prosecution witness said they were blue.
Defense attorney Bours also maintained trees and underbrush were so thick behind the homes of Buzbee and his neighbors that no one could have walked through without brushing them. The victim said nothing about such obstructions in her path.
During the trial, Bours requested the jury be taken to the Buzbee home to make their own determination. Prosecutor Hamilton objected, arguing there was no way of assuring things were the same as when the crime occurred 21 months ago. Judge Mitchell denied the request.
"It was too much trouble for the court to get the jury to go out there and look," said the anguished elder Buzbee.
Juror Wohl said she and her colleagues realized there were certainly going to be discrepancies in the victim's testimony. "We all felt it was amazing she remembered as much as she did under the circumstances, as terrified as she was," Wohl said.
In the jury's first vote, taken about an hour after deliberations began, three jurors abstained and one voted not guilty, Wohl said. That person, according to foreman Hinton, did not feel Buzbee was innocent but was unsure his guilt had been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
After that, the jurors carefully reviewed the exhibits and the extensive notes they had taken of testimony.
Their second vote was unanimous, Hinton said.
Hamilton said it was "not any one thing, but a combination of the evidence," that was "so potent."
"I feel justice was served," Hamilton said. "The verdict was totally consistent with the evidence."