Man gets 50 years in triple shoot­ing

Killed one, wounded two in Sept. 2015 in­ci­dent

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - By CARL HAMIL­TON ca­hamil­ton@ce­cil­whig.com

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.”

CONTE

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