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Judge finds Dicus guilty of murdering his wife
Glen Burnie man faces possible life in prison
Originally published on Nov 20 1999

By Andrea F. Siegel
Sun Staff

 The sorrow of two families overwhelmed an Anne Arundel County courtroom yesterday as a Glen Burnie man was convicted of first-degree murder in the 1995 death of his wife.

Circuit Judge Ronald A. Silkworth said that while "a few pieces of the puzzle may be missing," he was convinced that David A. Dicus, 41, had strangled his wife, Terry L. Keefer.

The Dicus and Keefer families cried and hugged as the judge explained his verdict, but it was Lucas Dicus -- the couple's 15-year-old son -- who weighed on the minds of many in the courtroom, including police officers who arrested his father last year.

Lucas, who said last week he could not believe his father would kill his mother, broke into uncontrollable sobs as Silkworth announced the verdict.

He was comforted by his father's sisters. But as the courtroom cleared, his maternal grandmother, Muriel Keefer, with whom he had a strained relationship, reminded him that she loved him.

Lucas stayed with his maternal grandparents when his father was arrested. He moved in with family friends in July, when police seized letters from his father -- including one that suggested witness tampering -- after relatives found them.

David Dicus faces a maximum sentence of life in prison when he is sentenced Jan. 21.

Assistant State's Attorney Frank Ragione said that while he was pleased with the judge's verdict, he felt sorrow for Keefer's family. "They've lost not only a daughter but a son-in-law also. It is a bittersweet day for them."

Members of the Keefer family, with buttons of the 37-year-old murder victim pinned to their jackets, spoke of the killing as a nightmare.

"Maybe the healing can start now," said Donald Keefer of Pasadena, the victim's father.

Defense attorney Gill Cochran said Dicus, who showed no emotion when the verdict was announced, voiced concern for his son. Cochran had hoped to win a not-guilty verdict by poking holes in the prosecution's case. He said he will seek a new trial.

Terry Keefer disappeared the night of July 28, 1995, when, according to testimony, Dicus strangled her in bed. Her body was found Sept. 7 near Scaggsville.

The trial pivoted on a version of events provided by Catherine S. McNicholas, Dicus' lover at the time of his wife's death. For three years, she told police she knew nothing about Keefer's slaying. But a story she told an ex-boyfriend reached police last year.

Faced with being charged as an accessory to murder, she received immunity after telling police that Dicus explained to her how he killed his wife and that she helped dump Keefer's body the day after she was slain.

Silkworth said that despite McNicholas' mental health problems, which the defense brought out, he found her credible. She gave details, such as the position of Keefer's body and the color of the blanket in which the body was wrapped, that police corroborated.

The judge said Dicus' behavior in the aftermath of his wife's disappearance -- reported to police on July 30 -- was not consistent with that of a worried or grieving spouse.

After police questioned Dicus in early August, Dicus told a neighbor that "they should be out looking for the real killer." But as far as anyone knew, Keefer was not dead.

"Only the killer would know that," Silkworth said.

Originally published on Nov 20 1999

Two families broken up after Dicus' conviction
By THERESA WINSLOW, Staff Writer, Capitol-Gazzette

Published November 20, 1999

Two families are trying to put their lives back together today in the wake of an emotional murder verdict in county Circuit Court.
David A. Dicus, 41, of Glen Burnie, was convicted yesterday of first-degree murder in the strangulation death of his wife, Terry Lee Keefer. She disappeared from her Millersville home in the summer of 1995 and her body was discovered in Howard County more than a month later.
Dicus faces life in prison when he's sentenced by Judge Ronald Silkworth on Jan. 21. His attorney, Gill Cochran of Annapolis, said he'll ask for a new trial.
Relatives of Dicus and Ms. Keefer wept when Judge Silkworth announced the verdict after an hourís review of the evidence in the three-week trial.
The emotions spilled out into the hallway of the Annapolis courthouse in the minutes after Dicus learned his fate. But everyone also expressed sympathy for Dicus' teenage son, Lucas, who was devastated by the verdict.
"Four years, three months and eighteen days ago, our family embarked on a journey into the unthinkable, the murder of our daughter, Terry Lee Keefer," Donald Keefer of Pasadena, her father, said in a prepared statement.
"Today our journey has come to an end. Our daughter has had her day in court and with the conviction of her husband, David A. Dicus for murder, perhaps we can all look toward some degree of closure to this nightmare."
Lucas, 15, sat in the courtroom weeping for a long time after the verdict was announced. He declined to comment. He was escorted out the courthouse through the judge's chambers instead of walking through the main hallway and facing the Keefers.
But there seemed to be little animosity between the two families. In fact, several of the Keefers hugged the Dicuses and they consoled each other.
"My nephew, Luke, I feel for him like you wouldn't believe," said Jerry Keefer of Pasadena, Ms. Keefer's younger brother. "If there is any way in the future, we'd like to have a loving relationship with him."
Dicus' sister, Laura Dicus of Ferndale, said Ms. Keefer would always be like "a sister" to her family. But she also stood by her brother.
"He's my brother and I love him no matter what," she said. "I'm a Christian."
The prosecutor, who relied heavily on the testimony of Dicus' former lover Catherine McNicholas to gain the conviction, said he was satisfied with the verdict but sad for the families.
"It's a bittersweet day for them," Assistant State's Attorney Frank Ragione said.
Dicus remained expressionless during the proceedings. But Mr. Cochran said his client later expressed disbelief about the case, as well as concern for his son.
As Judge Silkworth went over the evidence, the Dicuses sat quietly on one side of the courtroom and the Keefers filled the other. State legislators, on an official tour of the courthouse, stood in back, and several other prosecutors and investigators sat in the jury box.
Dicus elected to have the judge alone decide his fate rather than a jury.
Mr. Cochran was shaken by the verdict but praised the thorough review of the case by the judge.
"The judge gave us a very, very thorough trial and a very reasonable decision," he said. "We asked for a judge trial, and we got a very thorough judge trial."

As trial closes, son's painful vigil nears end
Judge's verdict is due in fate of man accused of killing his wife

Originally published on Nov 19 1999

By Devon Spurgeon
Sun Staff

 As 15-year-old Lucas Dicus sits on a wooden bench in the Anne Arundel County courtroom, he scribbles in his spiral notebook as if taking notes in one of his honors classes at Old Mill High School. But the only test he's faced on this subject has been one of his strength and maturity during grueling and often gruesome testimony.

His green notebook is filled with notes on the eight days of testimony in the trial of his father David Dicus, 41, accused of strangling his wife and Lucas' mother, Terry Lee Keefer, in 1995.

Today, Lucas' vigil in the courtroom may come to an end. At 9: 15 a.m., County Circuit Judge Ronald A. Silkworth is expected to announce his verdict.

Waiting: Lucas Dicus, 15, lost his mother in a homicide four years ago. Now he fears losing his father, on trial in the killing, to prison. (Sun photo by Elizabeth Malby)

His intense writing during the trial, Lucas says, was "the only way to calm myself down."

Through it all, while sitting two rows behind his father and across the aisle from his mother's family, the boy listened and took notes with the detachment of a courtroom stenographer.

He heard in closing arguments this week the state's attorney describe in horrifying clinical detail how his father allegedly strangled his mother. And later, his father's attorney countered that his parents had "great sex, not just good sex" in the hours before his mother disappeared.

Through it all, he supports his father.

"Me and my dad are a package deal," he says in explaining his unwavering belief that his father is innocent and his unwavering moral support, which gave him the will to sit through long, tiring days in court, sometimes doing his homework, sometimes scribbling notes about the trial. "You cannot have one of us without the other."

Perhaps the only thing the prosecution and defense in this trial have agreed on is that Lucas, with the face of a cherub despite his scruffy beard, is a victim.

When he was 11, his mother disappeared while he slept. At age 14 -- early one morning before school -- Lucas watched as Anne Arundel County police arrested his father and charged him in the death of his mother.

"I felt my life was really unfair," said Lucas. "They just came in and cuffed him. I had no idea what they were arresting him for."

After his father's arrest, Lucas moved in with his maternal grandparents -- Muriel and Donald Keefer -- whom he had not seen in two years. While living in their Glen Burnie home, police raided his room, confiscated for evidence a pile of letters his father had written him from jail.

"It was like a bad movie," he said. "They were trying to get me to say something against my father."

He could not live there anymore, he said, so he moved in with an elderly family friend whom he called "Grandma Doris." But, almost two months ago, the police once again knocked on his door.

"I was thinking, `Oh, God, what do they want with me now,' " he said. "I thought they might try and accuse me of something."

This time the police came to tell him that the elderly woman he had been living with had died in a car accident.

Now, he shuttles among his friends' houses -- neatly squeezing all of his possessions into boxes and a laundry basket. He carries his bass guitar and amplifier with him.

Through it all, he says, his faith in his father has never faltered -- not even when the prosecution's key witness, Catherine S. McNicholas, 41, testified that she helped David Dicus dump his wife's body. Survey crews for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. found Keefer's body in a field near a utility pole less than six weeks after she was reported missing by her husband in 1995.

If anything, the adversity has strengthened a strong bond between father and son. Lucas says he always viewed his father as a "friend" -- calling him David instead of Dad. He called his mom T or Terry.

"They were my parents, but also my friends," he said. "They treated me as an equal."

Lucas remembers his last day with his mother. They went out to dinner at the Double T Diner in Pasadena. He recalls his mother playing the piano and singing.

At the trial, Assistant State's Attorney Frank Ragione said that Dicus wanted to end his marriage to Keefer. He said that Dicus desperately wanted custody of Lucas and was told by a divorce attorney that Maryland favors the mother in custody battles.

"He wanted complete control of Luke; their relationship transcended the normal father-son relationship," said Donald Keefer. "We think that David's motivation was that he wanted complete control of Luke and unfettered access to Cathy [McNicholas] or whoever his paramour may be."

Around the time of the murder, Dicus became reacquainted with McNicholas -- an old friend from high school. The two began an affair, but McNicholas testified that she told him she was reluctant to get further involved with him because he was married. "He said, `I guess I'll just have to kill my wife,' " she testified. McNicholas received immunity from prosecution after agreeing to testify against Dicus.

Lucas did not listen to her testimony -- he sat out in the hallway reading the Ray Bradbury novel, "Something Wicked This Way Comes." He could not be in the courtroom at that time because he was a witness for the state.

After McNicholas' testimony, Lucas was on the stand for two days and then was allowed to attend the trial. Despite being called as a witness for the prosecution, Lucas left little doubt that he believes his father is innocent.

While on the stand, he recounted that sticky summer night in late July 1995 when he last saw his mother. Lucas remembered that he had fallen asleep after watching the "X-Files." He testified that he believed his mother left to "go for a drive," but never returned home.

From the beginning, the police made it clear that they considered David Dicus the main suspect.

"It was ridiculous," Lucas said, in an interview. "I could see where they were coming from, but I saw my parents interact and he loved her and he still loves her to this day. He would never hurt her."

An exceptionally bright student, Lucas found solace in school because it was the one constant in his life.

"I have some students go through trials and tribulations but not quite like this," said Andrea Parham, Lucas' guidance counselor at Old Mill High School. "He is a wonderful, very mature young man beyond his years. Without a doubt, he is very intelligent."

Lucas and his father -- who was working as a machinist for the county school system -- would often go on long drives, sometimes as far as West Virginia. "We found that relaxing," he said. "We would listen to music and talk about a lot of different things."

Unlike most teen-agers, Lucas never fought with his father over his schoolwork. "School is one of the few things I have that has remained stable," he said.

Then, last December, Dicus was arrested. "It turned everything upside down," Lucas said. "I had to move out of my apartment and pack up everything myself. I organized the packing and called friends to get them to help. I had to grow up very fast."

Almost a year has passed since his father's arrest. When Lucas visits him in the Anne Arundel County Detention Center, they both put their hands on the same spot on the glass divider. He has not been able to touch his father since the arrest. But, they talk on the phone every day.

If his father is released today, Lucas hopes to give him a hug. Then, they want to go on a long, long drive.

"Once this is over, we will be trying to get our lives back together," he said. "I want the police to leave us alone."

Sun staff writer Andrea F. Siegel contributed to this article.

Originally published on Nov 19 1999

Attorneys complete closing arguments in Dicus murder trial
Judge expected to return verdict Friday morning

Originally published on Nov 17 1999

By Devon Spurgeon
Sun Staff

 Staring straight ahead at the judge who will decide his fate, David A. Dicus listened intently as the state's attorney described him as a calculating killer who on a warm summer night nearly four years ago strangled his wife and dumped her body in a field.

Dicus showed little emotion during the 3 1/2 hours of closing arguments yesterday in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court. With his long hair cut for the trial, Dicus briefly smiled at his 15-year-old son, Lucas, who was sitting behind him fidgeting and scribbling into a spiral notebook.

Dicus, 41, of Glen Burnie, is charged with first-degree murder in the July 1995 death of his wife, Terry Lynn Keefer. The couple met at Northeast High School in Pasadena. They began dating after graduation and had been married for 13 years at the time of her death.

Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Ronald A. Silkworth plans to issue a ruling Friday morning.

"He watched her life drain through his fingers," said Assistant State's Attorney Frank Ragione. He ended his closing statement with an African proverb: "Human blood is very heavy, and the man who sheds it cannot run away from it."

"Do not let David Dicus get away with it," he said.

Gil Cochran, Dicus' attorney, criticized county police officers, saying they "could not find an olive in a martini."

Most of his closing argument focused on discrediting county police and the state's lead witness -- Catherine S. McNicholas, Dicus' former girlfriend.

McNicholas, 41, testified that in the early morning hours of July 29, 1995, she helped Dicus dispose of his wife's body.

Testimony attacked

McNicholas said Dicus planned to make it appear that his wife's car was disabled with a flat tire and that she had been the victim of an unknown attacker.

But, during cross-examination two weeks ago, Cochran got her to admit she had given a wrong address for herself under oath a few hours earlier and that she was taking numerous drugs, some for psychiatric disorders.

He repeatedly accused McNicholas of lying and attacked her deal of immunity with the state's attorney.

Cochran also focused on "eight sightings of Keefer by nine different people" in the days after her disappearance. Keefer's body was found by a Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. survey crew almost six weeks after she was reported missing.

A family waits

Keefer's parents -- Muriel and Donald Keefer -- stared at the floor throughout Cochran's closing. They were sitting behind the state's attorney -- across the aisle from their grandson, Lucas.

Muriel wears a gold pendant necklace with her daughter's picture embossed on it. Their daughter would have celebrated her 42nd birthday last week.

"It has been a long road since that Sunday morning" four years ago, said Donald Keefer -- referring to the morning he was told by his son-in-law that his daughter was missing.

Originally published on Nov 17 1999

Divided by courtroom aisle, family endures murder trial
Dicus accused in death of wife; son, in-laws watch

Originally published on Nov 11 1999

By Andrea F. Siegel
Sun Staff

 A few candles were to top a cake last night at the home of Muriel and Donald Keefer to mark a birthday that is not taking place. Their daughter, Terry Keefer, would have been 42.

They spent the day as they have spent most weekdays this month, in the Anne Arundel County Circuit courtroom of Judge Ronald A. Silkworth at the trial of the man charged with first-degree murder in the death of their daughter in July 1995. The accused is their son-in-law, David A. Dicus, 41.

On the other side of the courtroom sits their grandson, Lucas Dicus, a 15-year-old whose future hangs on the outcome of his father's murder trial. On nearby benches are friends, his paternal grandfather and an occasional Dicus relative. Several members of his father's family have been subpoenaed as witnesses and have not been allowed to attend the hearing.

"I've lost Terry. I've lost David. And I've lost our grandson," said Muriel Keefer.

He lived with his grandparents after his father's arrest last year, leaving last summer after a police search of his room yielded letters from his father, including one, prosecutors say, in which Dicus suggests that his son tamper with pivotal witness, Catherine McNicholas. Lucas testified that his father told him soon after that not to call McNicholas, who had been Dicus' girlfriend at the time of his wife's death and whose believability is crucial to a verdict.

Muriel Keefer said she and her husband respect Lucas' feelings and do not discuss the case with him.

Lucas, who remains close to his father, disputes the prosecution's case. Assistant State's attorney Frank Ragione said Dicus strangled his wife in the bedroom of their Glen Burnie home, had his girlfriend help dump the body near Scaggsville and abandoned Keefer's car on Interstate 97, staging a flat tire and later thoroughly cleaning the car. Keefer's body was found 41 days after she disappeared.

"Every way they look at it, they see it the same way. Every way I've looked at it, I've seen it the same way, and it's a different way. I don't see how my dad could have done that," Lucas said.

The defense has focused on discrediting McNicholas, who, faced with possibly being charged as an accessory to murder, changed her account last year in exchange for testifying under a grant of immunity.

About 1,500 pages of her medical records will be combed through tomorrow. The defense is trying to paint her as a liar addled by medication she was taking after suffering a stroke and psychological problems.

She has been consistent in relating details of Keefer's death. Prosecutors are expected to say that whatever her ailments, what she has said conforms to the investigation into Keefer's death.

Yesterday, two witnesses for the defense said they saw Keefer after the time police think she was killed. Both testified that they saw her on the evening she was reported to have died.

Unlike the Keefers, Lucas was not marking his mother's birthday, barely noting the date. He remembers her in other ways, he said, such as in dreams so real that when he awakes he expects her at his bedside.

"My mom, I was real close with her, just as I am close with my dad. She was always a nice person," Lucas said. "One of the last things I did with her, she took the day off from work. We spent the day together.

As yesterday's testimony ended, Lucas said, "It's stressful." Most days, he goes to the home of a family friend where he is staying and listens to music, e-mails friends and talks by telephone with his father.

Originally published on Nov 11 1999