Trial for triple shoot­ing un­der­way

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - By CARL HAMIL­TON

ca­hamil­ton@ce­cil­whig.com

— 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

ELK­TON

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.

CE­CIL WHIG FILE PHOTO BY CARL HAMIL­TON

In­ves­ti­ga­tors move out­side the crime scene tape af­ter a triple-shoot­ing near North East in Septem­ber left one vic­tim dead.

CONTE

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