- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 30, 2000

LA PLATA, Md. A Circuit Court judge repeatedly scolded a drug-addicted prostitute yesterday as she testified how she killed a woman on directions from the woman's husband, bail bondsman Dean Pantazes.

"The truth is that man is as much a murderer as I am," said Jermel Ladonna Chambers, 37, pointing and glaring at Mr. Pantazes seated with his defense attorneys at a table 12 feet away.

It was outbursts like that declarations beyond answers to questions by defense attorney William C. Brennan that caused Judge James J. Lombardi to call several recesses and bench conferences when his open-court admonishments failed to stifle Chambers.

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 the 5700 block of Kenfield Lane in Upper Marlboro.

Chambers testified she became acquainted with Mr. Pantazes, whom she knew as "Steve," while having sex with him for $40 or $50 beginning in December.

"Steve" told her his boss was having trouble with his wife, and would pay to have her killed before she could leave him and take all their property and wealth with her.

About 7 a.m. March 30, "Steve" picked up Chambers at a 7-Eleven near the District of Columbia line, took her to the house, told her how to get into the garage, said a pistol was on top of a refrigerator and told her she should make it look like a robbery.

"It was my daughter's 9-year-old birthday," Chambers testified. She got scared and was trying to pry open the garage door when Mrs. Pantazes walked in from the house.

"If I find out how to open that door, she'd still be alive," Chambers said. "We were both so damned scared, we didn't know what to say."

"She said, 'How'd you get in this house?' " Chambers testified and said she answered, "A man, his name was Steve. He let me."

Chambers said she begged Mrs. Pantazes not to call police and let her out of the garage. She said she was in a bad spot because she was a black woman in a white woman's $475,000 house.

Chambers said she advanced on Mrs. Pantazes until they were "breast to breast." When Mrs. Pantazes, who was holding a pet dog, reached toward a telephone, Chambers fired the first shot.

"She didn't fall. She slid back down the door," Chambers said. "After the second shot, she let the dog loose."

The gun jammed. Chambers said she unjammed it in a few seconds, fired a third shot, then got in Mrs. Pantazes' silver Jeep Cherokee, taking Mrs. Pantazes' wedding band, Rolex watch and the pistol with her.

She said Mr. Pantazes gave her gifts, including edible underwear, and about Valentine's Day, he gave her "five grand in crisp, brand new $50 bills."

She said she gave $4,500 to her mother to help one of her children through private school and used the other $500 to repay associates and buy drugs, including heroin.

"Steve" said he would leave $6,000 in the "vent" of a house on K Street NE in payment for the murder, Chambers said. Prince George's Assistant State's Attorney John Maloney introduced witnesses and documents showing that Mr. Pantazes had a key to the house because of another business he and his wife operated to fix repossessed properties.

Mr. Pantazes' defense attorneys have said that Chambers is delusional, a drug addict and has lied repeatedly. She admitted to giving false names and addresses and lying to get out of trouble, but insisted her three statements to police were truthful.

"I didn't lie," she told Mr. Brennan when he asked about police interviews. "I just didn't tell them everything they wanted to know."

The trial, which was moved to Charles County because publicity threatened a fair trial in Prince George's, is expected to last the rest of the week. If the verdict is guilty, more testimony and arguments will be presented before the jury decides if Mr. Pantazes should be executed or sentenced to life in prison.

Chambers faces the possibility of life in prison plus 20 years when she is sentenced Dec. 15. Yesterday, she said she has written a letter to Judge Lombardi in an effort to get a lesser sentence.

Chambers said she lived in New York City for nearly three years with her husband, a New York City police officer who died of brain cancer in 1995, and that she worked as a go-go dancer in clubs.

Mr. Brennan referred to institutional reports and asked if Chambers heard voices.

"I never heard voices unless they were on top of me or below me," Chambers said. But to later questions, she said she hears Jesus talking to her and, right now, "Jesus is telling me to be calm."

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