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Traveling toward confession

St. Mary’s jurors rode along with a murder suspect — albeit after the fact and through digital recordings — as his two-hour conversation with a detective last summer concluded with a trip to where the victim’s body was found.

The jurors hearing the murder trial this week of John Morris Quade Jr. also had nearly 100 pages of transcript to read along during Wednesday’s playing of the August 2013 conversation between the suspect and sheriff’s Cpl. William Raddatz.

Jurors were not told that Raddatz already knew Quade because the 32-year-old Lexington Park man was on a sex-offender registry, a tracking system enforced by the law officer. Raddatz did tell the jurors that he contacted Quade after other investigators had heard from someone who had seen Moneta Jo Strickland on the Three Notch Trail in Laurel Grove before she was killed, and had also described a man spotted on the trail.

During the recorded conversations, Quade initially denied even knowing about the homicide or being in the area, but as they chatted about a wide variety of subjects, Raddatz repeatedly returned to the case at hand, warned Quade not to let “people paint a picture about you that’s wrong” and told him there was evidence that he was at the scene of the crime.

Gradually, Quade said he’d gone across a highway from a store’s parking lot to the trail to go to the bathroom, and went there again to pick up a pack of cigarettes he had dropped. Quade at one point said he’d seen an “old creepy white guy with gray hair” walking on the trail, and Quade repeatedly asserted that he had hurt no one.

As the conversation continued, Quade said he’d seen the dead woman lying on the ground, and covered her up with leaves. “When you see something like that, you freak out,” he said.

The discussion that began in Lexington Park and continued during a car ride to the sheriff’s office headquarters in Leonardtown got back on the road again, joined by Trooper Michael Parker of the Maryland State Police, when Quade said he had taken the dead woman’s cellphone from the scene and threw it into a wooded area in California.

Quade also began talking about “rage medicine” he had been taking, acknowledged he might have blacked out at a moment when he and the woman were both on the trail, and then admitted having a conversation with her.

“I remember we got into an argument,” he said, “and that she told me I shouldn’t have been on the trail. And, y’know, I think she tried to smack me.”

Quade directed the law officers to trash bins at a couple different locations before he admitted he’d thrown the phone and other items into a burn barrel at his home. He also spoke about another piece of evidence.

“There was a rock,” he said. “I know there was a rock laying over beside us, and it had some blood on it. I walked up to the trail, and threw it on the opposite side.”

Jurors also watched a short video showing Quade making a throwing motion with his arm toward a wooded area along the trail.

“It hurts to see this place,” he said to the detective.

“It hurts to see it,” Raddatz concurred. “I’m sorry, John, but this is really important for us.”

As they got ready to leave the area, Quade was asked if he had anything else to tell the detective.

“I told you everything,” Quade replied, adding moments later, “Got the weight lifted off.”

St. Mary’s Circuit Judge David W. Densford also followed along with his own transcript of the conversation, which included discussions of food, fishing and family matters. After the jurors left the courtroom, the judge said, “About 15 percent of that had something to do with guilt or innocence.”

jwharton@somdnews.com

Jurors continued deliberations Thursday afternoon in the trial of a St. Mary’s man from the beating death of a nurse last summer on a jogging trail in Laurel Grove, in a case where his lawyer disputed that the facts support a charge of first-degree murder.

John Morris Quade Jr., now 32, of Lexington Park was accused by a prosecutor of bludgeoning Moneta Jo Strickland with a rock on the afternoon of Aug. 8 at the Three Notch Trail.

“He crashed it on her forehead, ... drug her in the woods and then buried her,” St. Mary’s State’s Attorney Richard Fritz (R) said at the onset of the proceeding. Following up on a missing persons report, police found the nurse’s body the next day, the prosecutor said, “completely buried with her hands protruding out of the leaves.”

Three days after that, the prosecutor said, a man who had been walking on the trail told police he had seen Strickland there, along with another man who was walking behind her and alternately disappeared and reappeared along the path. The witness’ account, and surveillance video from a store across Route 235 from the trail, prompted a detective to contact Quade, a convicted sex offender on a statewide registry enforced by the investigator.

Jurors heard a recording this week of sheriff’s Cpl. William Raddatz’s extensive conversation with Quade, who initially denied knowing about the woman’s death or being in the area, but ultimately acknowledged getting into an argument with her before he blacked out, by his account, and woke up next to her body and a bloody rock. Quade told the detective that he buried the body with leaves, threw the rock deep into the woods and took the woman’s cellphone home and destroyed it in a fire.

“He took that cellphone to cut her off from the outside world” if she survived, the prosecutor said. “When he couldn’t have his way with her, he killed her. He killed her to keep her from telling the police.”

Fritz said that Quade left the scene, but later returned to get a pack of cigarettes that he had dropped near Strickland’s body.

Gerald J. Riviello, Quade’s lawyer, countered that the evidence did not support a charge of first-degree murder, either on a theory of premeditation or that Strickland was killed during the commission of another crime.

“There’s really [just those] two theories that you can consider,” Riviello said. “The state is not going to be able to prove that this was a first-degree murder.”

Riviello disputed the prosecutor’s assertion that Quade robbed Strickland. Quade was not wearing a mask or gloves, the defense lawyer said, and “he’s not hiding himself.”

If a robbery was part of the incident, the lawyer questioned why Strickland’s car key and engagement ring would have been left behind with her body, while only her traceable cellphone was taken after her death.

The county’s state’s attorney said after Quade was indicted that a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole would be sought if the suspect is convicted of first-degree murder.

jwharton@somdnews.com