Jerome Rudolph Chase
Leonardtown, MD — When the Maryland Court of Appeals overturned a court procedure that had been in effect since colonial times, it called into question a number of trial convictions, including three murder cases from the 1970’s in St. Mary’s County. In a plea agreement brought about because of that appeals court decision, St. Mary’s County Circuit Court Judge Karen Abrams April 7 sentenced Jerome Chase, 71, to life in prison but suspended all but 45 years. Chase has served more than 39 years in jail and could be released short of the 45 years for good behavior.
Chase was convicted in 1975 of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison for the death of Millard “Harry” Tippett, 61, at his residence in Park Hall during an armed robbery attempt. Chase was convicted in a jury trial held in Calvert County before Judge Perry Bowen.
As had been typical in court in those days, Judge Bowen told the jurors his instructions were advisory only. That rule was changed in the state in the 1980s. But in 2012 the appeals court ruled that the instruction could have allowed jurors to overlook the standard that guilt be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the appeals court decision resulted in 70 inmates being freed and a number of convictions destined for retrial. Although the final outcome of the decision is pending an appeal, some jurisdictions have decided to begin to address the potential legal problem.
For the case of Chase, a retrial could have been questionable, Judge Abrams said, particularly since Chase might have used the argument that he shot Tippett in self-defense. The death occurred, according to Deputy State’s Attorney for St. Mary’s County Ted Weiner, after Tippett had apparently attempted to break up the robbery by pulling out a shotgun.
There were no eyewitnesses to the death of Tippett, although Tippett’s then 10-year-old granddaughter Susan had been tied up in the home’s basement and heard three gunshots from upstairs. Chase fled the scene and Tippett was found dead. Chase had reportedly broken into the house on two previous occasions.
Chase pled guilty to first-degree murder and use of a handgun in commission of a felony (violent crime) before Judge Abrams imposed the sentence agreed to by the state and Chase’s attorney, public defender Edie Cimini.
The 40 year old case opened up wounds for the Tippett family that still had not healed. Tippett’s granddaughter Kathleen read victim-impact letters on behalf of herself, her father and two other grandchildren.
Tippett was a widower who lived alone. Susan, the 10-year-old who was visiting her grandfather at the time of the murder, wrote, “Granddaddy was my hero.” She had lived with him in her early years but moved out of the house when her mother remarried. Susan said her grandfather made her feel special, allowing her to sit next to him as he was driving a school bus.
She described in her letter “the scary man with a gun wearing a stocking over his face” who broke into the house and tied her up in the basement. “I was in fear,” she wrote to the judge. “For 40 years, it has affected my every being,” she added.
Kathleen, who was seven years old at the time of the murder, reported that Susan had “lived in constant fear of being alone,” ever since. Kathleen reported, “I remember it like it was yesterday,” adding “Granddaddy was my father’s best friend in the whole world.”
Kathleen told Judge Abrams, “I trust I will see him (her grandfather) in heaven one day.
Another granddaughter, Nancy, argued against Chase being released, saying it would send a bad message to the community.
Chase’s attorney Cimini painted a picture of a kind, gentle, changed man. “There isn’t a day that he hasn’t thought about the choices he made,” she said, noting that he was very remorseful for what he did.
Cimini said that in his 39 years in jail Chase has won a number of awards and attained various levels of responsibility.” She said he had impressed the various lawyers from the public defender’s office who have handled his case over time.
When released, Cimini reported that Chase will live with one of his daughters in Baltimore and hopes to get a job.
Chase, at 71 trim and well spoken, asked the Tippett family for forgiveness. “Yes I did a very, very tragic thing at the time because I didn’t know who I was.” He said he wasn’t high on drugs but was high on what he was doing at the time. “I didn’t have feelings for anyone,” he added.
Looking at the Tippett family in the courtroom, Chase said he knew the family would have a difficult time forgiving him. “I am letting God forgive me,” he calmly said. He added, “I am very, very sorry from the bottom of my heart. I hope you one day will forgive me.”
Chase also noted the impact of what he did on his own family, including his three children. My family lost me,” he said, but noted they had also stuck by him through his time in jail.
Chase was returned to the St. Mary’s County Detention Center to await the sentencing hearing. He told Judge Abrams that while he was in the local jail he spoke to the other inmates about the repercussions of doing what he did.
Judge Abrams noted that everyone who appears before her is remorseful. But she took note of the potential risk of a retrial in accepting the plea agreement. She also noted the pain that the new sentencing was having for the Tippett family.
Chase will be on supervised probation after his release. That probation will be transferred to Baltimore, where he will be living.
Cimini told the Bay Net that the credit Chase will be given will be based on a calculation made by the Maryland Department of Corrections. She said a parole hearing may be required depending on the amount of calculated time.
The other St. Mary’s County murder cases, also heard by Judge Bowen, that are caught up in the appeals court decision are the conviction in 1973 of Sherrell Richard Link in an execution style triple murder in Lexington Park and in 1976 of Ronald Thomas-Bey in the death of store manager Vera Mae Long in a Charlotte Hall robbery. Those cases could lead to new trials or plea agreements as in the Chase case.
Contact Dick Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org