Maryland judge decides on one trial in double killings

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A man charged with first-degree murder in the beating deaths of his estranged wife and her 11-year-old son in Montgomery County last fall will face the charges collectively rather than in separate trials, against the wishes of defense attorneys.

In a Thursday motions hearing, Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Mary Beth McCormick shot down a defense request that Curtis Lopez, 45, be tried separately with the murder of Jane McQuain and her son William McQuain. The 51-year-old mother was found beaten and stabbed to death in bed in her Germantown home. Her son’s body was found six days later in a wooded area several miles away, a baseball bat lay close to his body and his was skull crushed.

During the hearing, which was held at the Circuit Court in Rockville and lasted several hours, public defenders argued a trial combining the cases would result in prejudice against Mr. Lopez, while prosecutors said the crimes were so intertwined that it would be impossible to try them apart.

“The victims were killed in different locations, at different times, and by different means,” public defender Stefanie M. McArdle said. “The jury is going to infer guilt from evidence of other crimes.”

But Deputy State’s Attorney John Maloney said the crimes were linked because William was killed in order to cover up his mother’s death. William was due home to the scene of his mother’s killing the morning of Oct. 1 after a sleepover, but by killing him, Mr. Maloney said Mr. Lopez “bought himself more days” to run.

Mr. Lopez was arrested at a hotel in Charlotte, N.C., on Nov. 2 in possession of Jane McQuain’s SUV.

The case has come under consideration for the death penalty, but a spokesman for the state’s attorney’s office said Thursday a decision has not been made on whether to pursue capital punishment.

Mr. Lopez’s attorneys also argued Thursday to exclude evidence, including trackable cellphone data, from the trial — scheduled for October. Police used cellphone records to track Mr. Lopez’s movements. They recovered the phone from Jane McQuain’s vehicle in North Carolina and then used its call records to establish with whom he had contact.

Public defender Alan Drew argued that the records were handed over to police by a cellphone company after investigators sent a letter requesting them, citing an emergency situation, but that no judge had reviewed or signed off on the request.

“It allows the police to authorize a search anytime they want and in this case seize evidence,” Mr. Drew said, adding he could find no prior judge’s ruling on the topic.

Prosecutors argued that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy of cellphone records, which are kept by a third-party company.

Judge McCormick, calling the arguments “technical” and “cutting edge,” heard only portion of the evidence motions Thursday and made no other rulings. The hearing is expected to continue Friday.

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