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Judge to hear tapes in trial

Woman accused in plot to kill her ex-husband; 
Prosecutors propose transcripts; Jurors should decipher recordings, defense says
By Sheridan Lyons 
Sun Staff 
0rginally published August 6, 2002 

A Carroll County judge said yesterday that he will listen to tapes that purportedly capture a Finksburg woman discussing a failed plot to kill her exhusband, then decide whether jurors should receive a transcript of the recordings at her trial next month. 

The defense lawyer for Constance Lee Etzler, 46, said jurors should try to decipher the tapes, which are of poor audio quality, without a transcript prepared by prosecutors. 

“It’s not OK to offer a transcript to a jury when there’s a dispute over whether it’s accurate or not,” attorney Leonard H. Shapiro argued yesterday at a motions hearing. “When you give them a transcript, nobody’s going to listen to the tape. They’re going to read the state’s version … and that’s unfair.” 

Etzler is charged with conspiracy and solicitation to commit murder. She is accused of asking a former boyfriend, Richard Wayne Richardson, 35, of Westminster, to kill her ex-husband because of a custody dispute. Richardson was serving a six month jail sentence for the unauthorized use of Etzler’s car, when, on April 4, 2001, he contacted authorities and told them that Etzler had asked him to murder Westminster accountant William Lee Etzler, from whom she was divorced in 1994. On April 5, police found four gasoline cans under a hunting cabin in Clearville, Pa., that was used by the ex-husband – a smoker – who apparently never visited it during that time, according to authorities and the charging documents. Richardson agreed to record his conversations with Constance Etzler. He was charged with conspiracy, but agreed to cooperate with prosecutors as part of a plea agreement. 

Deputy State’s Attorney Tracy A. Gilmore said the transcript is intended to help jurors. She provided a copy to Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr., who said he would not be able to listen to the tapes sooner than next week. The tapes were not played in court yesterday. 

The four conversations include one at a Westminster restaurant, with others such as a waitress speaking, and one at a pay telephone beside busy Route 140 near Reese and Community Volunteer Fire Company, according to lawyers in the case. Gilmore said the recordings have been improved and a new transcript prepared since the defense raised similar objections at a hearing in January. 

When arrested April 12, 2001, Etzler was working on her dissertation for a doctoral degree at the Johns Hopkins University and teaching English as a second language and reading as an associate professor at Montgomery College. 

Richardson is being held in the Carroll County Detention Center., Gilmore said. He had been freed Feb. 26 on a $25,000 unsecured bond and placed on home detention, but was reported missing March 23 by the monitoring service. When he showed up for a court date May 7, he was arrested and ordered held without bail.