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Md. appellate court affirms depraved heart murder conviction

The Court of Special Appeals Tuesday affirmed the 2014 second-degree murder conviction of a Carroll County man who shot his girlfriend when he says she tried to stop him from committing suicide.

William R. Brueckmann was convicted by a jury of second-degree depraved heart murder, first-degree assault and use of a handgun in the commission of a felony or crime of violence. He was sentenced to a total of 13 years in prison, the first five of which are without parole.

On appeal, Brueckmann objected to evidence allowed to be introduced at trial, requested jury instructions that were rejected and the trial court’s denial of a motion for a new trial, according to the opinion, written by Judge Kevin F. Arthur. The court rejected Brueckmann’s arguments and affirmed his convictions.

Brueckmann fatally shot Brittany Warfield with a handgun on Nov. 18, 2012, outside his residence in Woodbine, according to the appellate opinion. The circumstances of the shooting were “in vigorous dispute,” with the state arguing it was an act of premeditated murder and Brueckmann contending it was an accident.

Prosecutors introduced evidence, through police testimony and photographs, that Brueckmann possessed six unloaded long guns in his home at the time of the shooting. Brueckmann moved to exclude any reference to those weapons, claiming it was prejudicial and irrelevant, but the state argued it was relevant to premeditation because the handgun used in the shooting was loaded.

The appellate court found the issue was not properly preserved for appeal because Brueckmann did not renew the objection when the evidence was offered at trial, but Arthur also wrote the court would find no abuse of discretion if the issue had been preserved. The evidence was consistent with the state’s theory, though not conclusive, according to the opinion.

The trial court also declined to give two jury instructions requested by Brueckmann, including clarification on the definition of “homicide” and a specific statement that suicide is not a crime in Maryland. On appeal, the court determined the court properly instructed the jury on the elements of the charged crimes.

Brueckmann argued prior to sentencing that he was entitled to a new trial because the evidence was insufficient for the jury to convict him of his alleged crimes and the second-degree murder and first-degree assault convictions were inconsistent. But he abandoned these arguments on appeal, according to the opinion. Brueckmann argued the trial court erred in the application of and citation of legal authority.

The appellate court rejected this “novel” argument and found no reversible error.

“We do not reverse the denial of a motion for a new trial because the court’s extemporaneous, oral statements may have lacked the precision of a written opinion or a law review article,” Arthur wrote.

The case is William R. Brueckmann v. State of Maryland, No. 1202, Sept. Term 2014.