Man guilty of attempted murder in shootings
— 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
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.