- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A Hollywood woman gained release from prison and awaited deportation to her native country when St. Mary’s prosecutors dropped a handgun charge on Friday, a year after jurors convicted her of the offense at a trial arising from her husband’s death in 2010 from a gunshot wound.
Joanna Joyce Findlay, now 42, was serving five years without the possibility of parole for the handgun offense, with a suspended five-year sentence for attempted second-degree murder. A prosecutor said during Friday’s hearing that Findlay will be held in an immigration detention facility until she is permanently deported, possibly some time early next year, and returned to Scotland to be with her gravely ill father.
Findlay was incarcerated for about a year, her trial lawyer said before the hearing, including a couple months in pretrial custody at the St. Mary’s jail and her time in prison after a sentencing hearing last February.
Friday’s agreement calls for Findlay to drop an appeal she was pursuing in the case, including of the attempted second-degree murder conviction that still stands and is the basis for her deportation.
“This is the case that never goes away,” State’s Attorney Richard Fritz (R) said during the court proceeding. “Hopefully, this will end it today.”
He later added, “It is in the interest of the people of the state of Maryland to have her leave the state of Maryland, and have this case finally put to rest.”
St. Mary’s jurors acquitted Findlay last year of first-degree murder in the death of 55-year-old Gary Alan Trogdon, whose body was found by police responding to the couple’s Hollywood home on Oct. 30, 2010. The case quickly centered on two guns in the home and pornography, depicting both adults and children, that was recovered during the investigation.
During pretrial proceedings, Findlay’s trial attorney argued that her outrage after discovering child pornography on her husband’s computer led him to commit suicide. The prosecutor said that recovered images of Findlay engaged in sexual activity would dispute her claim that she was shocked by what was on her husband’s computer.
A lawyer representing Findlay at a post-trial hearing last spring unsuccessfully argued that she was entitled to a new trial, in part on grounds that she might have been acquitted altogether if the trial’s prosecutor had not told jurors that Findlay’s sworn testimony could not be believed because she is an atheist. The trial judge ruled in May that the jurors’ verdict indicated that they found Findlay’s testimony credible, negating the complaint about the prosecutor’s comments, in that the jurors evidently believed her statements that she did not kill her husband. The judge noted that the issue of sexual materials also proved to be relatively insignificant, once the prosecutor told jurors of Findlay’s comments to 911 dispatchers that she had shot at her husband.
Findlay’s lawyer at the post-trial hearing said that Findlay has maintained that she fired the .22-caliber pistol into the floor to keep Trogdon from continuing an assault on her.
On Friday, Fritz said in court that he had agreed to “reopen” the handgun charge that Findlay had been convicted of, and dismiss it. St. Mary’s Circuit Judge Karen Abrams asked if he had that authority.
Fritz said he could do so, if both sides in the case agreed.
“We hope you’re not wrong,” John Ray, Findlay’s trial lawyer, said as she stood by him in her prison clothes.
“If nobody objects,” Fritz said, “we’re correct.”
The prosecutor acknowledged in court that Trogdon’s family opposes the agreement.
“Obviously, they object,” Fritz said, “but it is in the province of the state’s attorney to enter a noll pros,” dismissing a charge.
Ray said immigration lawyers are trying to expedite his client’s deportation, with her consent, and he thanked the prosecutor for securing the return of her passport that was seized two years ago as a condition of her pretrial release.
“That will help the process of getting her out of this country,” the defense lawyer said.
Abrams said the agreement should not be viewed by Findlay as a declaration of her innocence.
“The forces have combined appropriately to get you where you need to go,” the judge said. “It’s been an unfortunate case.”
Findlay worked as a writing instructor at the University of Maryland. Trogdon was a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel who worked as a military historian for the Department of the Army and a professor at American Public University.
Staff writer Jesse Yeatman contributed to this report.