James K. Clay, Jr.

Leonardtown, MD — A St. Mary’s County judge has ordered a new trial for a man convicted of felony first-degree murder in the shooting death of a St. Inigoes man in February of 2013. The Maryland Court of Appeals in November ordered that the life without the possibility of parole conviction of James Clay, Jr, be remanded back to court because of an error by St. Mary’s County Circuit Court Judge Karen Abrams, who presided over the jury trial in July of 2013.

The appeals court ruled that Clay had spoken of desiring an attorney other than public defender Gerald Riviello. The appeals court ruled, “The court (Abrams) did not inquire into Clay’s reasons for wanting to retain private counsel. Nor did the court make any finding as to whether his reasons were meritorious or advise him of his options depending on whether his reasons were meritorious or not.”

The appeals court admitted that often requests for new attorney are used as delaying tactics by defendants but it concluded that didn’t matter and the judge should have advised Clay of his options.

Clay was brought down to St. Mary’s County Circuit Court on Monday from the Maryland Department of Corrections for a hearing before Judge Abrams at which she read portions of the appeals court’s decision and ordered a new trial at some unspecified future date.

Clay was represented in court Monday, Jan. 26 by public defender Sean Moran standing in for Riviello. Judge Abrams noted that Clay would have to address the attorney issue before the new trial. Clay was then remanded back to the state penal system pending the new trial.

Clay, of no fixed address, was one of three men charged in the death of Robert McDowney, Sr., 37, at his trailer on Beachville Road in St. Inigoes Feb. 7, 2013. The trials painted a picture of three men hoping to rob McDowney, a known drug dealer.

According to testimony of McDowney’s girlfriend, who was in the trailer at the time, two men broke into the trailer. Clay was identified as not wearing a mask and the one who allegedly shot McDowney.

Of the other two defendants, Andre Bowman was convicted of first-degree murder and is serving 40 years in jail. The jury in the case against Joseph William Medley, III was hung on the most serious charges and a retrial is also pending in his case.

Contact Dick Myers at news@thebaynet.com