- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 20, 2000

Robert Paul Lucas ordered held without bond yesterday on first-degree murder charges in the stabbing of a Catholic priest has had, by all accounts, a troubled past. Yet those who know him say he also has a generosity very much like the man he's accused of killing.

Mr. Lucas showed no emotion yesterday as Montgomery County (Md.) District Judge Thomas L. Craven ordered him held in jail on first-degree murder charges for the stabbing of Monsignor Thomas Martin Wells, who was found dead on June 8 after being repeatedly stabbed inside the rectory of Mother Seton Parish in Germantown.

But Mr. Lucas' mother, Judith Lucas, came out of the Rockville courthouse crying, saying the cruel murder was unlike her kind, caring 25-year-old son.

"They would have gotten along great," Mrs. Lucas said of her son and Monsignor Wells, adding that she wished the two had had an opportunity to meet under peaceful circumstances.

Throughout yesterday's hearing, Mrs. Lucas cried, repeatedly removed heavy sunglasses, and wiped her eyes and face while watching her son, in jail, on the remote television set.

"The man standing in there that did that stuff is not my child," Mrs. Lucas said. "My son is still my love. I still love him."

Court records show her son had a history of run-ins with the law. Since 1993, Mr. Lucas was arrested four times on seven charges many of which reflect both a drinking and drug problem.

In November 1997, Mr. Lucas was arrested for driving while intoxicated and police found drug residue in a pipe. He gave a Germantown address in that incident.

In February 1998, police stopped Mr. Lucas, then of Damascus, for speeding. They detected a "strong odor of alcohol" and found a brass pipe for smoking drugs.

A year ago, police surveillance stopped Mr. Lucas, this time with a Gaithersburg address, and charged him with stealing two license plates, possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Mr. Lucas' first adult arrest was in March 1993 when he and a brother were charged with the daytime burglary of a house in the 12000 block of Galena Road in Rockville, stealing a television, pearl necklace and jade bead necklace. For that, he was sentenced to three years' probation.

At yesterday's hearing, Deputy State's Attorney Katherine Winfree said Mr. Lucas, during hours of police questioning Saturday, admitted a drinking and drug problem, and suggested he contemplated suicide several times, asking detectives once "for a rope."

State's Attorney Douglas Gansler said evidence indicates that Mr. Lucas and Monsignor Wells, 56, talked to each other before the priest was killed. He said he has not yet decided whether he will seek the death penalty.

Mrs. Lucas said she has visited her son in jail and he has no memory of a crime. "He doesn't remember… . He just could not comprehend he did this… . He's sorry. He's asked everyone to forgive him."

The Catholic Church, at least, seems willing to do so.

"We are saddened by Monsignor Wells' death, but at the same time we have to be a people of life, a people of forgiveness and reconciliation," said Bishop William Lori, auxiliary bishop of Washington. "I'm praying for Mr. Lucas, also praying for an end to the senseless violence in our society."

Susan Gibbs, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Washington, said, "We've already had one death too many. The church has been consistent in its opposition to the death penalty."

Monsignor Wells was "pro-life," Miss Gibbs said. "Some of his parishioners [Sunday] said he would be the first to say no to the death penalty."

Mrs. Lucas, a Catholic, sometimes took her son to church, but he never joined. She said he had a cleft palate and other problems when born, and "died" two months after birth, although she did not elaborate.

"God brought him back for a reason. I don't think this is it," Mrs. Lucas said.

When he was growing up, she said, he often reached out to his less fortunate, sometimes homeless friends even inviting them to stay with them. Mrs. Lucas said he once brought in six kittens, and on another occasion tearfully took an injured cat to a veterinarian.

For the past two or three months, Mr. Lucas has been sleeping in his van, which he parked next to a large woodpile at the Clarksburg home shared by Tim Mente and Sandy Davis in the 14200 block of Comus Road. Mr. Mente worked with Mr. Lucas trimming trees. Neither was home yesterday.

On the night of the killing, Mr. Lucas acted "sick to his stomach" and Miss Davis knew something was wrong, according to neighbor Elane Stamets.

"Sandy seemed to have a high opinion of him," Mrs. Stamets said. "It seemed like they trusted him because he was around their children a lot."

Mrs. Stamets described seeing Mr. Lucas, his hair slicked back, as he mowed the lawn and worked on cars behind her home. He once helped Miss Davis paint the house.

There are only three houses in this rural stretch of Comus Road. A church sits next to the properties and a moving company is across the street. The yard where Mr. Lucas' van sat is filled with old cars, a tractor and mechanical equipment.

Mrs. Stamets allowed her two little boys to play ball with Mr. Lucas until about a month ago. The mother thought it strange that he was always lingering around the property.

"To know that he was talking to my kids, that's scary," Mrs. Stamets said. "Maybe this can be what brings [Mr. Lucas] to his knees and bring him to the Lord."

Mr. Gansler said the police investigation is continuing, and the autopsy report is not yet complete. He said items from the rectory, in the 19900 block of Father Hurley Boulevard, were found in the van where Mr. Lucas was living.

"We have a confession from the perpetrator as well as scientific and forensic evidence," said Mr. Gansler. "In the course of his statement, [Mr. Lucas] knew details that a person otherwise could not know."

Following a tip from a defense lawyer's client, police began surveillance of Mr. Lucas on Friday, and noticed that he was wearing boots with soles that matched an imprint at the rectory. Early Saturday, they arrested Mr. Lucas and searched the van in which he was living near Clarksburg.

He will remain in jail until a preliminary hearing July 14. Typically, the Montgomery County grand jury indicts defendants before their preliminary hearings.

Meanwhile, a yellow police tape remains strung up around the rectory where Monsignor Wells lived. Flowers and mementos left in tribute to the priest sat under three trees on the church property yesterday.

The staff at Mother Seton have created a Web site located at

members.aol.com/SetonPage that, since June 8, has received more than 7,500 hits from as far away as New Zealand and Ireland.

On it are all of Monsignor Wells' "From the Pastor's Desk" columns, in which he reflected on the spiritual, or examined issues that might cause a struggle with faith.

In his April 9, 2000, column two months before his death Monsignor Wells wrote: "It really is quite simple: choose always to put God and neighbor first. Simple, but really tough: because often God seems hidden and neighbor is ungrateful, uninterested, or even vindictive."

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