Trial for triple shooting underway
— A fight over the stranding of a relative was the catalyst for the fatal shooting of a man and the critical wounding of two others inside a residence in a North East-area neighborhood in September.
That’s what prosecutors and defense lawyers harmoniously told jurors on Monday, as the murder trial for Dennis Allen Conte, 22, of Elkton, got underway in Cecil County Circuit Court.
But Assistant State’s Attorney Kevin B. Urick and Conte’s defense lawyer, Michael J. Halter, offered conflicting versions of how the shootings occurred.
Conte is accused of fatally shooting Joshua W. L. Hodge Sr., 36, and critically wounding Hodge’s fiancee, Shannon D. Burlin, 36, and their friend, George M. Thodos, 35, during the incident about 3 a.m. on Sept. 9 inside a residence 400 block of Lakeside Drive in the Lakeside Drive Mobile Home Park.
He is charged with seconddegree murder and eight other offenses, including two counts each of attempted second-degree murder and first-degree assault.
Described by prosecutors as a heroin dealer, Conte also is charged with possession of heroin with intent to distribute – stemming from investigators finding that
suspected drug inside his van after his arrest in Elkton shortly after the shootings.
Urick told jurors that Conte pulled the handgun from his waistband and opened fire in the living room of that residence, after Thodos had entered the house and run toward a recliner occupied by Conte, knocking Conte over.
Conte fired several gunshots within seconds after Hodge had separated Conte and Thodos, according to Urick.
Thodos attacked Conte because he was furious after learning that Conte had driven Thodos’ cousin to the Hollingsworth Manor neighborhood in Elkton a few days earlier and then had left him there without a ride, Urick told jurors.
Halter, however, told jurors that Conte was unarmed when Thodos blitzed him in the recliner and that it was Thodos who possessed the handgun. The defense lawyer further maintained that Thodos displayed the weapon. Halter contended that Conte was able to snag the handgun away from Thodos during their struggle and then fired the shots in self defense.
Having suffered one gunshot wound to his abdomen and two to his back, Hodge was flown by Maryland State Police helicopter to University of Maryland’s Shock Trauma Unit in Baltimore, where he died less than two hours after the shooting incident, police reported.
Burlin suffered a gunshot wound to her neck — one in which the bullet shattered several of her teeth, broke the bones in the roof of her mouth, fractured the area where her “spine and skull meet” and left her with a “numb mouth,” according to Burlin, who was transported by ambulance to Christiana Hospital in Delaware.
On Monday, wearing a neck brace on the witness stand, Burlin testified that she saw Thodos “plow Dennis (Conte) over” in the recliner and then, seconds later, watched Hodge “pull them apart.”
And then, according to Burlin’s testimony, Conte suddenly armed himself and opened fire while Hodge and Thodos stood within a couple of feet of him. Still standing near the front door after entering the residence, Burlin was several feet farther away from Conte than were Hodge and Thodos, she estimated.
“Josh (Hodge) said, ‘ No, bro.’ Dennis (Conte) pulled a gun out of his waistband. Then I felt pain in the left side of my neck. My ears rang. I got dizzy and fell onto the porch,” Burlin testified, noting that she and Hodge – both bleeding profusely from their gunshot wounds — were able to make their way across the street to her nephew’s mobile home for help.
Burlin wept as she recalled the final words she heard spoken by Hodge, whom she had known for 22 years. Burlin and Hodge were living together elsewhere in Lakeside Mobile Home Park at the time of the incident.
“The last thing I heard was that he could not see,” Burlin cried.
Thodos, who had suffered gunshot wounds to his back, fled from the residence and collapsed in the woods across the street from where Burlin and Hodge had sought help, according to testimony given by Andrea Hodge, 26, who identified the murder victim as her uncle.
Andrea Hodge told jurors that she heard gunshots while walking down the street away from that Lakeside Drive residence and toward her own Lakeside Mobile Home Park house. She had been at that residence, where the shootings occurred, earlier that day, she noted.
During her testimony, Hodge recalled how she came to Thodos’ aid after hearing him in the nearby wounds. “He was screaming, ‘Where’s the ambulance?’” Hodge said.
Thodos, who was living in Lakeside Mobile Home Park too at the time of the incident, was transported to Christiana Hospital, where he and Burlin underwent emergency surgeries, police reported.
Andrea Hodge also testified that she saw Conte run from the residence, get into a purple van and drive away, seconds after the sounds of gunshots made her turn in the street and head back to the residence where he had been earlier.
Officers captured Conte less than an hour after the deadly incident, according to Urick, who told jurors that investigators found Conte “hiding behind a wall” in Elkton and later found heroin inside his parked van.
State testimony indicated that the victims were friends who “hung out” with each other and that they were acquainted with Conte, who was visiting a couple that lived in the residence where the shootings occurred.
At the time of shooting, according to Burlin, the man who lived there was in a bedroom at one end of the mobile home while the woman who lived there was in a bedroom at the other end.
Burlin and Hodge had snorted heroin together at their own residence earlier that night, she said on the witness stand. They went to that Lakeside Drive residence after Hodge had received a text from Conte, who had offered a sample of heroin, Burlin added.
“We went there to hang out and get a so-called sample, a tester,” Burlin said, explaining that the sample would help them decide if they wanted to buy some of that particular heroin from Conte.
As Burlin and Hodge were walking up to that Lakeside Drive residence, they noticed Thodos, who was heading in the same direction, Burlin said. After someone answered the door, the trio walked into the home and then Thodos ran toward Conte in the recliner and barreled into him, she added.
And then, after Hodge separated Conte and Thodos, gunshots rang out.
The murder trial is scheduled to resume Wednesday morning, with the state expected to call one, possibly two, more witnesses before the defense starts presenting its case.
Investigators move outside the crime scene tape after a triple-shooting near North East in September left one victim dead.