Pantazes v. State

Decision Date29 August 2003
Docket NumberNo. 142,142
Citation831 A.2d 432,376 Md. 661
PartiesDean James PANTAZES v. STATE of Maryland.
CourtMaryland Court of Appeals

Paul Mark Sandler, Charles S. Fax (Jeffrey M. Geller, Shapiro Sheri Guinot & Sandler, on brief), Baltimore, for appellant.

Diane E. Keller, Asst. Atty. Gen. (J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Atty. Gen., on brief), Baltimore, for appellee.



Dean James Pantazes, appellant, was convicted in the Circuit Court for Charles County, Maryland, of the crimes of first degree premeditated murder, first degree felony murder, second degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, two counts of solicitation to commit murder, and use of a handgun in the commission of murder. He was indicted in Prince George's County, and the State filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty. Pantazes exercised his constitutional and statutory right by filing a Suggestion of Removal pursuant to Article IV, § 8 1 of the Maryland Constitution and Maryland Rule 4-254(b)(1).2 As a result, the trial was removed from Prince George's County to Charles County. Pantazes presents the following two issues in this appeal: did the trial court err in denying his second suggestion of removal under the Maryland Constitution, Art. IV § 8(b); and did the trial court abuse its discretion in limiting his cross-examination of Kim Young, a key witness for the State, and excluding extrinsic evidence proffered to challenge the witness' credibility. We shall answer both questions in the negative and affirm the judgments of conviction.


Appellant was tried and convicted on all counts before a jury in Charles County. Prior to sentencing, the State withdrew the notice of intent to seek the death penalty. The trial court sentenced appellant to life without the possibility of parole. He noted a timely appeal to the Court of Special Appeals. The Court of Special Appeals reversed his conviction and remanded the case for a new trial in the Circuit Court for Charles County. Pantazes v. State, 141 Md.App. 422, 785 A.2d 865 (2001), cert. denied, 368 Md. 241, 792 A.2d 1178 (2002).

On May 10, 2002, prior to the second trial, appellant filed another Suggestion of Removal. Appellant argued that because the State was no longer seeking the death penalty, the case should be transferred back to Prince George's County. Appellant also argued that media coverage of the trial had made it impossible to get an impartial jury and fair trial in Charles County. The court denied the motion, and the case proceeded to trial in the Circuit Court for Charles County on July 30, 2002.3

At trial, the State sought to prove that appellant hired a prostitute, Jermel Chambers, to murder his wife, Clara Pantazes. The State's key witness was Chambers. In her testimony, Chambers described the events that preceded the murder of Mrs. Pantazes. Chambers recounted that she first met appellant in early 2000 near a 7-Eleven on Eastern Avenue, Washington, D.C., when he picked her up in his green Chevrolet Suburban. Appellant drove her to K Street and paid Chambers for sexual services. Appellant told Chambers that he would become her "regular," and they exchanged telephone numbers. Appellant met Chambers approximately twelve times, six or eight times for sexual services. During their second encounter, appellant asked Chambers about hiring her to kill someone. Appellant, who referred to himself as Steve, identified the proposed victim as his boss' wife. In early January 2000, appellant paid Chambers $5000.00 to commit the murder and promised her an additional $5000.00 for its successful completion. Chambers testified that appellant told her that he would pick her up, drive her to his boss' house and provide her with a gun, and that he instructed her to make the crime look like a robbery.

Chambers testified that the murder took place on March 30, 2000. That morning, appellant drove Chambers from the 7-Eleven on Eastern Avenue to appellant's family home in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Appellant took Chambers into the garage and told her the gun was wrapped in a towel on top of the refrigerator. Before leaving, appellant instructed Chambers to make the murder look like a robbery by removing several valuable items from the scene. Appellant left Chambers in the garage with the door closed. When Mrs. Pantazes came into the garage, Chambers shot her three times, took her ring, watch and purse, and drove away in her car. Mrs. Pantazes died in the garage. Chambers then drove back to Washington, D.C., abandoning the car on Benning Road. Chambers eventually agreed to enter a guilty plea to murder and unlawful use of a handgun in a crime of violence and to participate in the trial against appellant in exchange for the State not seeking the death penalty.4

At trial, the State called Kim Young to corroborate Chambers' testimony. Young identified appellant as a person posing as "Steve." Young, also a prostitute, first met a man named Steve in December 1999 while engaging in prostitution near Paul's Liquor Store on Eastern Avenue. Young testified that, during this first sexual encounter, Steve talked about an old man he knew who needed to have "this woman" killed. Steve offered $10,000.00 to commit the murder. Young gave him a telephone number in the event he wanted another "date." At a second meeting, appellant provided Young with details of the proposed murder, stating that the garage door would be left open and that Young should come to the house between 9:00 and 9:30 a.m., when the intended victim would be leaving for work. Appellant assured Young that he would provide the gun. According to Young, Steve gave the witness a scrap of yellow paper containing his home address, directions to his house and his garage door code, providing access to the house to enable Young to find his home and to kill his wife. Appellant instructed Young to take the victim's purse, watch and car to make it look like a robbery. At various meetings over the next few months, Steve drove either his green Suburban or a Jeep Cherokee. Young did not agree to do the killing, but told Steve "I find somebody to do it for you." In response to the State's question as to whether Young ever got someone to do the murder, Young testified "No."

According to the testimony, Young learned about the murder of Mrs. Pantazes on the local television news. Recognizing the similarities between the murder and the crime proposed by Steve, Young relayed the information to a police officer. Young went to the officer, anticipating questioning by the police because Steve had called Young's residence multiple times and Young "didn't want to be involved in that mess." That evening, Young was interviewed by a Prince George's County police detective. Young gave a written statement and identified appellant as the man known as Steve.

Prior to appellant's cross-examination of Young, he moved in limine to inquire about, and introduce before the jury evidence of, alleged prior conduct that did not result in a conviction. The trial judge excused the jury to hear the parties' arguments. Appellant then explained his theory of the crime—that Chambers and Young murdered Mrs. Pantazes during a botched robbery and that they sought to shift blame for the murder onto him. Relying on Rules 5-608(b) and 5-616(b)(2)5 and (b)(3), appellant sought to establish Young's involvement in an incident in which Young allegedly arranged a robbery that led to murder which Young then blamed an innocent man to disguise Young's involvement. Appellant told the court that he could produce testimony to show that Young confessed to participating in the 1995 murder of a District of Columbia police officer and misidentified the killer. The trial judge arranged for a hearing on the matter the following Monday. The judge asked appellant to provide at that hearing factual support for his proffer:

"THE COURT: Well, I wanted to see something besides your mere allegations. You have three or four people.
"[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: You want us to have them with us is what you are asking? Or documentation?
"THE COURT: You have to—In other words you have to show me that there is [an] actual predicate for this testimony."

During the hearing outside the presence of the jury, appellant contended that his proposed questions regarding Young's prior misconduct were permissible under Maryland Rule 5-608(b) to impeach the witness' veracity and that extrinsic evidence was admissible under Rules 5-616(b)(2) or 616(b)(3) because it showed the witness' bias and motive to lie.

In support of his motion, appellant submitted affidavits from two individuals: James Bradley, an officer assigned to investigate the 1995 incident, and Trevor Hewick, appellant's private investigator. According to defense counsel, the affidavits established that Young was engaged in prostitution with an off-duty D.C. police officer on January 12, 1995. During their encounter, Young exited the officer's vehicle and made a dancing motion, whereupon two men approached the car and attempted to rob him. When the officer resisted, he was shot and killed. Young identified Brian Hargrove as the assailant. The government filed criminal charges against Hargrove, but these charges were eventually dropped.6 The defense argued that the affidavits provided a reasonable factual basis for asserting that Young's alleged 1995 misconduct occurred but also conceded that he expected the witness to deny any wrongdoing. Counsel told the court:

"I have the right to press hard and get an answer to questions. And if she denies it, which I expect her to. I would expect her to tell the truth, but I understand the process, and she would probably not tell the truth. And then we need to prove this through extrinsic evidence."

The State argued that the affidavits did not constitute a reasonable basis for questions about the 1995 incident. The trial judge...

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