Members of Martin Charles Abell’s family filled three rows of a courtroom Friday morning as lawyers debated the fourth petition for his post-conviction relief after he was sentenced to life plus 22 years for killing a man outside Abell’s pawn shop in 2002.
Abell is now awaiting a ruling from a visiting judge from Montgomery County, who will decide if the case will be reopened.
Outside of his family’s Great Mills Road pawn shop on April 16, 2002, Abell’s 25-year-old son was thrown onto the road as he reached into a car that Matthew Shawn Jones, who was 22, was backing out of the store’s parking lot. Martin Abell fired two shots from a revolver, the second of which hit Jones in the head. Jones died 10 days after the incident.
Throughout his trial 18 years ago, Abell maintained that he believed Jones was going to kill his son, and said he was not attempting to kill Jones. He told jurors at the trial he had fired the first shot over the car to scare the driver, and another to “throw some glass at him,” which prosecutors said was the shot that struck Jones in the head.
Abell was convicted of first- and second-degree murder later that year among several other charges, only being acquitted of a voluntary manslaughter charge for “imperfect defense of others.” He was sentenced to life plus 22 years.
His sentence was later lowered to 40 years in 2014, giving him the possibility of parole. On Friday, Abell said he had recently been denied parole at his hearing.
His post-conviction attorney, Initia Lattau, argued Friday that Abell’s defense attorney did not dispute a purported inconsistent verdict when Abell was convicted of first-degree murder, second-degree murder with intent to kill or inflict serious bodily injury, and second-degree “depraved heart” murder in 2002.
To convict on first-degree murder, “you have to find that the murder was deliberate, premeditated,” Lattau said in court, and a second-degree “depraved heart” murder requires a jury to find the act was negligent.
“The verdict is inconsistent in I think an obvious way, you can’t be deliberate and negligent at the same time,” she said.
Lattau said the trial lawyer should have questioned the two guilty findings at the September 2002 trial.
“It could not have gotten worse for Mr. Abell,” she said. “It could have only gotten better or stayed the same.”
Deputy State’s Attorney Theodore Weiner argued Abell was serving one sentence for all of the convictions.
“Judge [C. Clarke] Raley accepted the verdict, he’s a veteran judge,” Weiner said. “And he sentenced him to life for it.”
The relief petition asks the judge to grant a retrial of Abell’s 2002 case, or to vacate his first-degree murder conviction and sentence him on the remaining counts.
Abell, now 67, was transferred from prison to the St. Mary’s County Adult Detention Center for a temporary stay in November when retired Montgomery County Circuit Judge Paul A. McGuckian agreed to hear the petition for relief. On Friday, McGuckian allowed Abell to continue to stay in the county detention center pending a ruling on his post-conviction relief.
On the other side of the courtroom on Friday was Matthew Jones’ mother, Colleen Jones, who said she attends every court hearing relating to the case.
“He took away my right to be a grandmother,” she said at Abell’s previous hearing.
Abell has also filed suit in federal court against the warden of Western Correctional Institution, where he was incarcerated, and two health providers, alleging that his medical conditions have not properly been treated. His complaint alleges the prison has provided him with “inadequate medical care” in relation to his wheelchair, medications and treatment for various medical conditions, and says he is seeking proper treatment and $250,000 from each defendant.