Man guilty of at­tempted mur­der in shoot­ings

Cecil Whig - - LOCAL - By CARL HAMIL­TON

ca­hamil­ton@ce­cil­whig.com

— A man is fac­ing up to 120 years in prison sen­tences af­ter a jury con­victed him of sev­eral charges Thurs­day — in­clud­ing at­tempted sec­ond-de­gree mur­der — in a triple shoot­ing that left one of the three vic­tims dead in a North East-area neigh­bor­hood.

The de­fen­dant, Den­nis Allen Conte, 22, of Elk­ton, stood 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. Sept. 9 inside a res­i­dence 400 block of Lake­side Drive in the Lake­side Drive Mo­bile Home Park.

Jurors de­lib­er­ated about nine hours over two days be­fore find­ing Conte guilty of at­tempted sec­ond­de­gree mur­der, con­clud­ing that Conte had tried to kill Tho­dos when he shot him twice in the lower back area.

The jury, how­ever, did not be­lieve that Conte had tried to kill Hodge when he shot him three times, in­clud­ing once in the ab­domen, and it ac­quit­ted Conte of sec­ond-de­gree mur­der.

Jurors also found Conte guilty of two counts of first-de­gree as­sault re­gard­ing Burlin and Hodge, as well as use of a hand­gun in the

ELK­TON

com­mis­sion of a felony or crime of vi­o­lence and pos­ses­sion of heroin with in­tent to dis­trib­ute.

The drug con­vic­tion re­lates to in­ves­ti­ga­tors find­ing heroin parceled into nu­mer­ous pack­ages in Conte’s van, af­ter of­fi­cers cap­tured him in Elk­ton about an hour af­ter the shoot­ings. Pros­e­cu­tors con­tended that Conte was a heroin dealer.

At­tempted sec­ond-de­gree mur­der car­ries a max­i­mum 30-year sen­tence, the same as the sec­ond­de­gree mur­der charge of which Conte was ac­quit­ted. Each of Conte’s first-de­gree as­sault con­vic­tions are pun­ish­able by up to 25 years in prison, while his heroin and hand­gun con­vic­tions carry max­i­mum 20-year sen­tences.

Stand­ing straight and still and look­ing for­ward, Conte showed no emo­tion as the ver­dicts were read aloud in the court­room af­ter the four-day trial.

A sen­tenc­ing date has not been set for Conte, who will re­main in­car­cer­ated with­out bond.

As­sis­tant State’s At­tor­ney Kevin B. Urick and Conte’s de­fense lawyer, Michael J. Hal­ter, agreed that Tho­dos had at­tacked Conte while he was re­laxed in a re­cliner, mo­ments be­fore six gun­shots rang out inside that mo­bile home.

There also was no dis­pute be­tween the op­pos­ing lawyers that Tho­dos was fu­ri­ous be­cause he per­ceived that, sev­eral days earli- er, Conte had driven Tho­dos’ adult cousin to Hollingsworth Manor and then stranded him in the Elk­ton neigh­bor­hood — the ap­par­ent rea­son for the at­tack.

But they dif­fered over how the shoot­ings oc­curred.

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 Conte, knock­ing him over.

Conte fired sev­eral gun­shots within sec­onds af­ter Hodge had sep­a­rated Conte and Tho­dos, ac­cord­ing to Urick.

Tes­ti­mony given by Burlin, who ap­peared on the stand Mon­day wear­ing a neck brace, matched the out­line that Urick had given jurors in his open­ing state­ment. Tho­dos did not tes­tify at trial be­cause in­ves­ti­ga­tors were un­able to lo­cate him.

Conte — the only other per­son able to pro­vide an ac­count — tes­ti­fied that it was Tho­dos who had the hand­gun, not him, and that Tho­dos pulled the weapon af­ter knock­ing him over. While Conte strug­gled with Tho­dos on the floor, the gun dis­charged five bul­lets, Conte said. Af­ter gain­ing con­trol of the gun, Conte fired one shot in self de­fense be­fore flee­ing, he added.

Conte’s tes­ti­mony matched the out­line given by Hal­ter dur­ing his open­ing state­ment to jurors.

Dur­ing his clos­ing ar­gu­ment on Wed­nes­day, Urick scoffed at Conte’s ac­count of five ac­ci­den­tally fired bul­lets — amid a scuf­fle — hap­pen­ing to strike the only three peo­ple in the room, other than Conte.

Urick also ques­tioned Conte’s self-de­fense as­ser­tion, com­ment­ing, “It’s not a le­gal de­fense to shoot some­one in the back be­cause he hit you in the nose.”

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 shoot­ings.

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.

“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, es­ti­mat­ing that Hodge and Tho­dos were a few feet away from Conte when shot, while she was a few feet far­ther from him, stand­ing near the front door shortly af­ter the trio had en­tered the mo­bile home.

Bleed­ing pro­fusely from their gun­shot wounds, Burlin and Hodge were able to make their way across the street to Burlin’s nephew’s mo­bile home for help, she tes­ti­fied.

Tho­dos fled from the res­i­dence and col­lapsed in the woods across the street from where Burlin and Hodge had sought help. Tho­dos and Burlin were trans­ported in am­bu­lances to Chris­tiana Hospital in Delaware, where both of them un­der­went emer­gen­cies surg­eries.

Burlin and Hodge, who had known each other for 22 years, lived to­gether in Lake­side Mo­bile Home Park. Burlin iden­ti­fied Hodge as her fi­ance. Tho­dos lived else­where in that neigh­bor­hood, and he was friends with Burlin and Hodge. They some­times hung out to­gether, as Burlin, Hodge and Tho­dos also did with other res­i­dents there.

They also knew and some­times hung out with Conte, who was vis­it­ing a cou­ple of mu­tual friends at that Lake­side Drive mo­bile home when the shoot­ings oc­curred. Burlin tes­ti­fied that she and Hodge had gone to that res­i­dence, af­ter Conte had texted Hodge and in­vited the cou­ple to try a heroin sam­ple he had.

As Burlin and Hodge ar­rived at the res­i­dence, so did Tho­dos, and they en­tered af­ter knock­ing on the door. Gun­shots rang out mo­ments later.

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