- The Washington Times - Friday, December 8, 2000

LA PLATA, Md. A Charles County jury found bail bondsman Dean Pantazes guilty yesterday of first-degree murder for hiring a drug-addicted prostitute to kill his wife.

The jury of eight women and four men deliberated for about four hours before finding Pantazes, 45, guilty on all seven counts, including first-degree premeditated murder, using a handgun to commit a felony and solicitation to commit murder.

Prostitute Jermel Ladonna Chambers has pleaded guilty to killing Clara Pantazes, 47, with three shots from a .25-caliber pistol the morning of March 30 at the couple's home in Upper Marlboro.

Chambers agreed to testify against Pantazes if prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty against her.

Prosecutors will seek the death penalty against Pantazes when the penalty phase of the trial begins today. They said they will not be calling any additional witnesses during those deliberations.

Pantazes remained stone-faced as the verdict was read, shaking his head as several family members, including his daughter, Eleni "Nike" Pantazes, 17, broke into tears behind him.

After the verdict, Pantazes blamed his conviction on Jack B. Johnson, Prince George's County state's attorney, and the politics of the county.

"I didn't do it," Pantazes said as sheriff's deputies led him from the courthouse.

Before the verdict was announced, Circuit Judge James J. Lombardi told the courtroom he did not want any outbursts, alluding to previous disruptions from Pantazes and Chambers during the course of the trial.

Pantazes erupted during closing arguments Wednesday, screaming at a prosecutor, "You're lying. You're lying."

During her testimony, Chambers turned toward the defendant and screamed: "You're going to burn in hell. You were going to kill the children next, tell them that. You're going to burn in hell."

Family members of Pantazes, including Clara Pantazes' mother and sisters, held hands while waiting for the jury's decision.

"We're very satisfied with the verdict," said Assistant State's Attorney Robert Dean. "We're glad he'll be held accountable."

Assistant State's Attorney John Maloney said the evidence against Pantazes was "overwhelming."

Mr. Dean said the state is seeking the death penalty because of the egregious nature of the murder-for-hire plot. Because the victim's family members all believe in Pantazes' innocence, there will not be a victim-impact statement during sentencing.

During their closing arguments Wednesday, both prosecutors and defense attorneys praised the Pantazes family, including Pantazes' children, Soteras "Teris" Pantazes, 19, and Eleni, who faithfully attended the trial and voiced support for their father.

"How sad and tragic this is for the family," Mr. Dean said. "Wonderful children? No one would dispute that. And their loyalty to their father is understandable."

But testimony about family trips and a dream home being built at Tracy's Landing, Md., took the focus off "this other life he was clearly living," he said.

Testimony about that other life came from Chambers and another key prosecution witness, transvestite Kevin Young.

Young and Chambers both testified to having sexual relations with Pantazes, whom they knew as "Steve," along Eastern Avenue, which forms the border between Prince George's County and the District.

Young said "Steve" had tried to hire him or some other person to kill an Upper Marlboro woman. "Steve" described how the slaying would be carried out, just as Chambers did it, Young testified.

The trial moved from Prince George's County to Charles County Circuit Court at the request of the defense. Nearly 70 witnesses were called to the stand during eight days of testimony.

• Arlo Wagner contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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