HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) Danielle Black, 15, wasn't shy about what she wanted: She told her peers she wanted her father hurt, maybe even dead. So when 47-year-old Billy Lee Black was fatally stabbed in the alley behind their rented duplex on Halloween, it didn't take police long to question his daughter, who told friends her father had physically abused her.
(AP Photo/Washington County Court)
Danielle, a smart but troubled sophomore at South Hagerstown High School, is charged as an adult with soliciting first-degree murder by asking a boy on her school bus to kill her father.
A judge ruled today she will be tried as an adult, a decision that comes with the prospect of a life sentence for the alleged crime.
Danielle maintains she's innocent, said her lawyer, Mary M. Drawbaugh.
The boy Danielle first approached on the bus refused to get involved, police said, so she told him she would ask other friends, including one named Alec.
Alec Eger, police said, was a 20-year-old newcomer to Hagerstown whose dark charisma had impressed a crew of kids in the gritty West End of the city of 40,000, about 70 miles from Baltimore.
At 6-foot-5, with his dark leather coat, hooded hazel eyes and shoulder-length hair, Eger cut an imposing figure. When he was stabbed in the arm, reputedly defending a girl against two would-be attackers - a story investigators couldn't substantiate - he also gained a reputation as a protector.
Police say Eger killed Black two days after the conversation on the bus. Police say he confessed to stabbing Black after going to confront him about abusing Danielle, though investigators found no evidence of such mistreatment by the father. Eger claims a fight ensued when Black grabbed a knife from his belt.
Eger has pleaded not criminally responsible, an insanity defense, to a charge of first-degree murder. His lawyer, Jerome Joyce, declined to comment.
Prosecutors have no proof that Danielle asked Eger to kill her father. The solicitation charge stems from her conversation with the first boy on the bus; she claims she asked him to "take care of" her dad, not kill him.
Police Detective Christopher Kayser said Danielle told police she had complained to friends, including Eger, hoping they would confront her father and maybe "rough him up."
But shortly after seeking Eger's help, she said, she told him her relationship with her father had improved.
In court, Danielle's lawyer portrayed her as a depressed, angry and possibly abused child whose untreated anguish led to a suicide attempt, violent fantasies and self-mutilation.
Black's widow, Andrea, denied the abuse allegations against the father. "I lived there, and there was none," she said.
At a court hearing Tuesday, Mrs. Black said she and Danielle had a good relationship but "for some reason, her and her dad didn't get along."
Beate Zipperle, a licensed clinical state social worker who testified on Danielle's behalf, said Danielle's parents divorced when she was about 2 and she was raised by her father, a 47-year-old tree-maintenance worker. Relatives told Zipperle that Black had quit drinking several years ago after threatening to shoot himself in front of Danielle and her older brother. Black remarried in mid-2007.
Early on, Danielle earned As and Bs, played trumpet, volunteered at an animal shelter and dreamed of becoming a veterinarian.
But difficulties at home led to several months of counseling for symptoms of depression and anxiety when Danielle was 12, Zipperle said. At 13, she began cutting herself, indicating that "something is awry, something is seriously awry with this child." At 14, she ran away and overdosed on prescription drugs.
The social worker said Danielle had fallen in with "a negative peer group."
Photos on a digital memory card found hidden in her bedroom included some of Danielle, her honey-blond hair dyed black, smoking, clowning with two guys hoisting liquor bottles and spelling out the word 'blood' with her fingers - an apparent reference to the Bloods street gang.
References to blood, cutting and stabbing appear often in two dozen poems and letters collected by police.
A teenage acquaintance speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals told The Associated Press that Danielle spoke loudly and often of her death wish for her father.
"She always went around saying she got abused and wanted her father dead. She told the whole school that," the boy said.
In Danielle's journal, investigators found a poem apparently
addressed to her father with the passage, "if you do it again; you won't have a life to live." Another poem included the lines, "Your time is now up; I promise it won't hurt much; I'll have a smile on my face."