SNOW HILL – Pre-trial posturing in the first-degree murder case against a man charged in the beating death of a Berlin teen in May continued last week in a motions hearing.
Worcester County Circuit Court Judge Theodore Eschenberg last Friday ruled favorably on several pre-trial motions in the first-degree murder case against Dominic Richard Canale, 22, of Ocean City, including dropping the second-degree murder charge against the defendant. In addition, Eschenberg also approved a motion by defense attorney Charles Bruce Anderson to exclude any mention of a baseball bat found in the Isle of Wight Bay some time after the crime during the trial slated for next week.
In another pre-trial issue, Eschenberg reserved judgment on a motion by the defense to exclude all photographs of victim, Michael Harry Mitchell, including those taken at the hospital were he was pronounced dead and also photos taken by the state Medical Examiner’s Office during and after the autopsy. The judge’s rulings on the various motions came during a pre-trial conference last Friday with another motions hearing set for Monday before the trial is scheduled to get underway next Wednesday.
Canale has been charged with first-degree murder in the beating death of Mitchell in the Decatur Farms community in Berlin in May. The fatal beating occurred on May 29 when a group of individuals including Mitchell and another victim in the case, Daniel Edward Riley, got involved with another group of individuals in a vehicle including Canale and Fernando Angelo Musiani, 19, also of Ocean City.
According to initial police reports, what started as a verbal altercation turned deadly when Musiani, who was driving the vehicle, allegedly popped the trunk to allow Canale to get out a baseball bat. Canale allegedly began swinging the bat haphazardly at the group, first striking Riley and later Mitchell.
Mitchell was allegedly struck in the right temple area and later pronounced dead from his injuries at AGH.
Witnesses told police Canale was the suspect that allegedly struck Mitchell with the baseball bat and ultimately caused his death. The alleged weapon was not found immediately after the incident. As the case against Canale and Musiani was being prepared, a baseball bat was found in the Isle of Wight Bay, which prosecutors have included during the discovery phase of the trials.
However, Anderson entered a motion to exclude any mention of the found baseball bat during the trial, a motion Eschenberg approved last Friday. It is uncertain if the bat found in the Isle of Wight Bay is the same bat used in the commission of the crime, which is reason enough to keep it from being introduced during trial next week, according to Anderson.
“Through discovery, the state has provided information concerning a baseball bat found in the Isle of Wight Bay by an individual,” he said. “Although it is undisputed that a baseball bat was used in this incident, there is no legal relevant nexus between the bat found and the bat used in this incident. This particular bat that was found has no demonstrative value or relevant value to this case.”
Anderson argued introducing the bat, which has not been directly connected to the incident, could unfairly sway the jury because of its potential dramatic effect.
“To allow the introduction of this particular piece of evidence into the courtroom would be highly prejudicial to the defendant and offer no probative value regarding the state’s case,” he said.
In a separate motion, Anderson asked the judge to exclude all photographs of the victim from being entered into evidence during trial. There are several photographs of the victim taken at Atlantic General Hospital where he was ultimately pronounced dead and several more taken by the medical examiner’s office during autopsy. During the pre-trial conference last Friday, the judge reviewed the photos, as did Canale, who was in the courtroom wearing a blue prison jumpsuit.
“There is no need to see all of them,” Anderson told Eschenberg in court last Friday. “The fact is, they are gruesome and prejudicial to my client.”
In the actual motion to exclude the photographs, Anderson was even more explicit. “In this case, there is no dispute that the deceased died as a result of a blow to the head whereby he fell and struck his head on the roadway resulting in his death,” the motion reads. “Photographs of the crime scene include a large amount of blood that is shocking, disturbing and gruesome.”
Eschenberg did not immediately rule on the motion to exclude the photographs, although he did give some inclination of what he was going to do. “I’m going to reserve judgment,” he said. “I’ll likely grant some, but probably not all.”
With the trial set to get underway next Wednesday, it remains in doubt whether the two sides will reach any plea arrangement before than. Although it remains a possibility, Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Farlow, who is prosecuting the case against Canale, told Eschenberg last week the two sides are still too far apart.
“We’ve had brief discussions, your honor, but at this point, we’re just too far away,” he said.