By Guy Leonard, County Times
LEONARDTOWN, Md.—Circuit Court Judge C. Clarke Raley will now determine whether Nicholas T. Potts III was criminally responsible for the death of James Augustus Choporis two years ago at the Bay District firehouse after a jury of 12 county residents found Potts guilty of both first and second degree murder Tuesday, Jan. 13.
Potts trial lasted about a week and was scheduled to have a second portion of the jury trial to determine his mental capacity to be criminally responsible, but after the jury verdict, the defense requested that Judge Raley alone determine Potts level of responsibility in Choporis death.
Witnesses for the defense in the first portion of the case portrayed Potts as a man who had radically changed from being a cheerful and highly competent firefighter to someone who was withdrawn, irritable and prone to uncharacteristic outbursts of anger.
This behavior was triggered, defense witnesses suggested, including an expert medical doctor, by multiple concussions Potts sustained to his head in accidents before the June 11, 2006 killing.
The defense argued that Choporis had a history of agitating Potts, whose mother Choporis was involved with at the time, and the evening of the killing at the old Bay District Volunteer Fire Department, Potts anger exploded.
The defense also argued that Potts claims made in his statement were true, that Choporis had drawn a knife on Potts and that Potts defended himself.
He [Choporis] knew he was pulling a knife on a time bomb, said Potts attorney Mitchell Nelson in closing arguments Monday. My client was in a complete fight or flight mode
he didnt have a grasp of what hed done.
But the prosecution was successful in convincing the jury that Potts intended with premeditation to kill Choporis that evening due to the sheer brutality evidenced by Choporis wounds.
Assistant States Attorney James Tanavage argued to the jury that Choporis had sustained 56 cutting wounds at Potts hands as well as blunt force trauma from a golf club before being stabbed and cut.
Theres no way these wounds could have been inflicted without intent, Tanavage told the jury, later arguing that Potts had attacked Choporis from behind with the golf club while Choporis was sitting on the couch in the firehouse lounge watching television.
The defense theory that Potts acted in self defense had no actual evidence to sustain it, he argued.
This killing was not instantaneous, Tanavage said. It took time. It was willful, it was deliberate and it was premeditated.
Throughout the trial, it was never determined exactly what provoked Potts to kill Choporis, though the defense argued that Choporis shoved Potts after Potts went to retrieve a soft drink for the victim.
Potts statement from that night revealed that he felt he had been continually disrespected by Choporis and that he allowed his temper to take control of him, graduating to murderous rage.
Potts did not testify in his trial.
Detective Clayton Safford, the Bureau of Criminal Investigations officer who handled the case, said he was never able to ascertain exactly what caused Potts to respond in so violent a manor.
Carol Allen, the medical examiner who performed Choporis autopsy, said the blunt force trauma Choporis received could have been fatal without the stab wounds that essentially drained the victim of his blood.
Dr. Linda Rice, an expert witness for the defense, stated that tests performed on Potts found he had severe mental limitations that were the result of serious head trauma sustained before the Choporis murder. Potts also exhibited paranoid behavior, Rice testified.
She described Potts as barely functioning at any level and said he would have great difficulty functioning in society.