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As she left a St. Mary’s courtroom late last Thursday afternoon, after jurors convicted her daughter’s killer of second-degree murder and acquitted him of first-degree murder, Thelma Strickland weighed the balance of the mixed verdict.

“It’s not what I wanted,” the Hollywood area resident said in a courthouse hallway, “but it’s better that they didn’t set him free.”

John Morris Quade Jr. left the courtroom through another door, to return to jail and await a sentencing hearing that could send him to prison for 30 years in the beating death last summer of Moneta Jo Strickland, a 32-year-old nurse, on a jogging trail in Laurel Grove.

Jurors also acquitted Quade at the end of a three-day trial of robbery charges from the attack last August at the Three Notch Trail.

St. Mary’s State’s Attorney Richard Fritz (R) argued during the trial that Quade, 32, robbed Strickland of her cellphone, and that Quade beat the woman’s head with a rock. 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.

The jurors also heard a recording of a detective’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, he claimed, 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, took the woman’s cellphone home and destroyed it in a fire.

Toward the end of the trial, during Riviello’s closing argument, he asked the jurors, “Why would someone rob someone [else] of something that has no value? He can’t keep [the phone]. It makes no sense.”

The defense lawyer added, “This is not a robbery. It is not a premeditated first-degree murder. All this happened in a very short period of time. There’s nothing to prove that this didn’t happen exactly as he said.”

Fritz countered that during the attack on Strickland, Quade “wanted that cellphone to keep her from contacting the outside world” if she survived.

“He was only interested in her,” Fritz said, and not in taking Strickland’s engagement ring or a car key tied in her shoelaces.

During their nearly five hours of deliberations, the jurors sent notes into the courtroom, including one inquiring if someone could be robbed after that person has died.

“I think we both agree that the answer is ‘no,’” Fritz said to the trial judge after conferring with the defense lawyer.

Quade was indicted last year in the case on additional charges of attempted rape in the attack on Strickland. Riviello argued in a pretrial motion that police reports and an autopsy included no indication of a sexual assault on the fully clothed woman. Fritz told jurors at the trial’s onset that Quade killed Strickland “when he couldn’t have his way with her,” but court records state that the attempted rape charges were dismissed on Thursday before the jurors began their deliberations.

jwharton@somdnews.com