Man gets 50 years in triple shooting
Killed one, wounded two in Sept. 2015 incident
ELKTON — A man who shot three people inside a North East-area residence in September – killing one of them – received 50 years in sentences Friday.
Dennis Allen Conte, now 23, of Elkton, fatally shot Joshua W. L. Hodge Sr., 36, and critically wounded Hodge’s fiancee, Shannon D. Burlin, now 37, and their friend, George M. Thodos, now 36, during the incident about 3 a.m. Sept. 9 inside a residence 400 block of Lakeside Drive in the Lakeside Drive Mobile Home Park.
In March, a jury found Conte guilty of attempted second-degree murder, concluding that Conte had tried to kill Thodos when he shot him in the lower back area.
The jury, however, did not believe that Conte had tried to kill Hodge when he shot him four times – once in the abdomen and three times
in the back — and it acquitted Conte of second-degree murder.
Jurors also found Conte guilty of two counts of firstdegree assault regarding Burlin and Hodge, in addition to 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, which, according to Cecil County Circuit Court Judge Jane Cairns Murray, was at the crux of the incident.
“We are here because of a scourge, an affliction on this community,” Murray said from the bench Friday.
The judge noted that “guns and violence” are interwoven in drug dealing. She then referenced a victim-impact comment made by one of Hodge’s survivors, paraphrasing, “There are more like him (Conte), packaging up dope, polishing up guns and taking aim.”
Burlin, who suffered a gunshot wound to her neck, testified at trial that she and Hodge had gone to that Lakeside Drive residence to try a heroin sample that Conte had offered through a text message.
As Burlin and Hodge arrived at the residence, so did Thodos, who attacked Conte, according to trial testimony. Thodos was furious because, several days earlier, Conte had driven Thodos’ cousin to Hollingsworth Manor in Elkton and then stranded him there – the apparent reason for the attack, according to trial testimony.
Thodos did not testify at trial, nor did he attend Friday’s sentencing.
Conte pulled a handgun from his waistband and opened fire inside the living room, wounding Burlin and Thodos and fatally shooting Hodge.
“There is so much pain in this room,” Murray acknowledged from the bench, after hearing several emotional statements from the victims’ family members and from Conte’s relatives.
Murray imposed a maximum 25-year sentence on Conte for the first-degree assault conviction relating
to Hodge. The judge also imposed a consecutive 20year sentence on Conte for the first-degree assault conviction relating to Burlin. In addition, Murray imposed a consecutive, mandatory five-year sentence on Conte for use of a handgun in the commission of a felony or crime of violence.
The judge also imposed a concurrent 10-year sentence for the attempted second-degree murder conviction relating to Thodos and a second 10-year term for possession of heroin with intent to distribute.
Before sentencing Conte for the drug conviction, Murray opined that the shootings might not have happened “if not for this count.”
Conte must serve half of his 50-year prison term before he would be eligible for his first parole hearing. He would be about 48 years old at that point.
Murray’s sentences exceeded state sentencing guidelines, which set a penalty range of seven to 39 years of active incarceration.
Assistant State’s Attorney Kevin B. Urick, who had prosecuted Conte at trial, recommended a mandatory five-year sentence on the gun conviction and consecutive, maximum sentences on the remaining convictions, which would have totaled 125 years.
Urick emphasized that Conte “was making use of home to sell drugs and was armed while doing so” when the shootings occurred.
“He placed himself in the inherently dangerous situation of selling drugs,” Urick said, after explaining that a drug dealer typically carries a gun because “the person selling it is outside legal protection.”
As a result of Conte’s drug-dealing lifestyle, the Sept. 9 incident resulted in “multiple victims,” Urick stressed.
Conte’s defense lawyer, Michael J. Halter, told the judge, “Mr. Conte has maintained his innocence throughout this matter.”
He added, “This whole situation was a result of a lifestyle that none of us can understand. He was selling drugs, by his own testimony. He did not go there to kill someone.”
Halter proffered that Thodos “was most responsible for what happened,” because he had attacked Conte “to get revenge” for Conte stranding Thodos’ cousin. Conte reacted in a “split second” when Thodos “bum-rushed” him, Halter said, opining that the rea-
son for Thodos’ attack reflects “the absurdity” of the incident.
At trial, Conte had testified that it was Thodos who had the handgun, not him, and that the gun discharged five times during their struggle. After gaining control of the gun, Conte fired one shot in self defense before fleeing, he testified.
“I just want to plead my innocence,” Conte told the judge moments before sentencing Friday.
Conte offered condolences to the victims’ families, saying, “I pray daily and nightly for them.” He then asked for leniency.
But the victims’ relatives told the judge that Conte doesn’t deserve leniency, explaining that – contrary to his version of events – Conte willfully fired those shots and his action has left them in emotional shambles. Among Hodge’s survivors are his two young children.
“The more time he serves, the more solace my family will find,” said Hodge’s niece, who cried throughout her statement.
Hodge’s niece told the judge that she is “angry, anxious and sad” in the aftermath. “Dennis Conte took my uncle’s life, but he put bullet holes in my mental health and self esteem,” she sobbed.
Family members emphasized that Hodge was a helpful, caring man and that his heroin addiction, which he had been battling, shouldn’t overshadow his many good qualities.
“Josh went into a disgusting, vile house to buy some heroin while the getting was good,” another relative prefaced, before stressing that, even so, Hodge did not deserve to be gunned down amid a fight that didn’t even involve him, nor did Burlin and Thodos deserve to be shot.
Conte’s relatives told the judge that their son was raised in a close Christian family with a father and mother who had been involved in his life. Described as kind and intelligent, Conte had aspirations of becoming an anesthesiologist, they said.
“We didn’t raise him like that. I know my son is in a lot of pain because he hurt me and he knows it,” his mother said tearfully, telling the judge, “I wish you would have known him under different circumstances.”
Addressing the judge moments later, Conte’s father cried, “I can’t understand why we’re here. I didn’t raise my son to be part of that lifestyle.”