- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 6, 2001

A Montgomery County jury last night found a homeless tree-trimmer guilty of second-degree murder, robbery and burglary for the slaying of Monsignor Thomas Wells in Germantown nearly a year ago.
Robert Paul Lucas, 26, appeared solemn and had his head lowered as the jury rendered the verdicts. He could get 70 years in prison when he is sentenced Aug. 13 by Circuit Judge Paul McGuckian.
Deputy States Attorney Katherine Winfree called it a "compromise verdict" but praised the jury for rejecting Lucas defense that he killed Monsignor Wells because the priest was pressuring him into homosexual acts.
"It is most satisfying that the jury never bought into that story," Mrs. Winfree said. "It is clear this jury completely rejected this fabricated story."
Juror Joe Berry said the jury, which deliberated nearly 30 hours, never "gave any credence to that story at all."
Monsignor Wells, 56, was found June 8 in the blood-splattered rectory of Mother Seton Roman Catholic Church in Germantown. Lucas was arrested nine days later after police said the pattern on his boots matched footprints in the rectory bedroom and bathroom.
Assistant public defenders Brian Shefferman and Mary Siegfried told the jury that on the night of the killing, Lucas was drunk, had wet his pants, and went to the rectory only to clean up and sleep.
Lucas and his attorneys claimed that Monsignor Wells invited Lucas into the rectory and, after a couple hours conversation, coerced him into homosexual acts. Lucas testified he resisted, using the knife he carried in his waistband, after Monsignor Wells grabbed his arm.
They said the jury should find him guilty of manslaughter with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and fourth-degree burglary, a misdemeanor.
Earlier yesterday, Judge McGuckian had urged the jury to "step back" and apply "common sense" to arrive at verdicts. He referred to a "grueling process" of the three days of deliberations before advising, "This is not quantum mechanics … Step back and look at the situation as a whole … Apply your common sense from your life experiences."
Jurors asked more than a dozen questions during their deliberations, and there were indications Monday that it might end up a hung jury.
The last question the jurors asked of the judge was whether they had to be unanimous on "not guilty" as well as "guilty" verdicts. Judge McGuckian answered that either verdict had to be by unanimous vote.
The jury was considering charges of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, manslaughter, felony murder, robbery and burglary.
States Attorney Douglas F. Gansler argued evidence proved that Lucas intended to steal when he broke into the rectory, and that Monsignor Wells was probably asleep when attacked with a knife in his bedroom.
Lucas admitted on the stand that he took about $900 from a white envelope, two religious coins, the priests wristwatch and a T-shirt to replace his bloody Harley-Davidson shirt.
Friends and family members of Monsignor Wells yesterday criticized Lucas and his attorneys, whom they blamed for concocting the defense.
"Robert Lucas attempted to murder Thomas Wells name," said Dan Wells, the priests brother. "If you dont believe the devil is alive and well, you should have been in this courtroom."
Monsignor Wells had an impeccable reputation, which Lucas has tried to ruin with his "utterly ridiculous story," said a nephew, Brendan Farley, 27, a research consultant, of Crofton, Md.
"What happened in there was felony murder that should put this guy behind bars for the rest of his life," Mr. Farley said. "Robert Paul Lucas takes it upon himself to smear this name."
"It was pure evil," said Dorothy Okyere-Fosu, director of religious education at Mother Seton. "Although it has been a tragedy, it has brought the parish together … God is the ultimate judge. That is our consolation."
But Greg Schaffer, a 29-year-old Bethesda man soon to be ordained, said, "I forgive them and I love them, because that is what Monsignor Wells and Jesus Christ stood for."


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