ELKTON — An Elkton man accused of seeking the assassination of a rival he had stabbed in January — to prevent the victim from testifying at his attempted murder trial — has been cleared of all charges.
Cecil County Circuit Court Judge Brenda A. Sexton acquitted the defendant, Anthony Maniscalco, 34, of solicitation to commit first-degree murder, inducing a witness not to testify or inhibiting a witness to testify, obstruction of justice, retaliation against a witness in a felony case and conspiracy to induce a witness not to testify or inhibit a witness to testify.
Sexton granted judgments of acquittal relating to those charges last Thursday in response to a mid-trial motion made by Maniscalco’s assistant public defender, William G. Christoforo.
Moments after the state rested its case midday Thursday, Christoforo argued that prosecutors had failed to meet their burden of proof. The trial had started late Wednesday afternoon.
Assistant State’s Attorney Robert Sentman rested the state’s case after a key witness — Joshua Crockett, 37 — refused to testify.
Prosectors had alleged that Crockett is the person Maniscalco had solicited to kill the victim in the stabbing case.
The state alleged that Maniscalco did so in January, when he and Crockett were cellmates at the Cecil County Detention Center.
At that time, Maniscalco was a pre-trial inmate in his attempted murder case, and Crockett was in custody in an unrelated criminal matter.
Clad in an orange inmate uniform, Crockett was escorted into the courtroom Thursday by a correctional officer. Seconds after reaching the witness stand and taking his oath, Crockett commented to no one in particular, “I don’t even know why I’m here,” before Sentman could ask his first question.
Crockett also remarked, “I don’t want to be any part of this.”
Then Crockett invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to testify and requested legal counsel, which prompted a bench conference.
That led to an hour-long recess, in which court officials contacted an assistant public defender, Denise Winston, who showed up a short time later and met with Crockett privately.
When the trial resumed after the early lunch break, the state rested its case, after calling three witnesses, including Crockett, who gave no testimony.
Christoforo, in turn, made his motion for judgements of acquittal relating to all charges against Maniscalco during a white-noise bench conference, while jurors were seated in the jury box about 20 feet away.
Sexton granted the defense motion and then, explaining that the criminal case had been resolved, excused the jurors.
The solicitation-to-commit-murder case stems from this incident: In the early morning hours of Jan. 12, Maniscalco repeatedly stabbed a 32-year-old man inside a residence in the 100 block of Hollingsworth Manor during a dispute.
The victim, who ultimately was treated at Christiana Hospital in Delaware, suffered a large cut to the left side of his neck and multiple stab wounds to the upper left side of his back, police reported at the time.
Elkton Police Department detectives quickly developed Maniscalco as a suspect, police said.
Within a few days after the stabbing, investigators arrested Maniscalco and charged him with attempted first-degree murder, attempted second-degree murder and other offenses, court records show.
Shortly after his pretrial incarceration in CCDC, Maniscalco allegedly made overtures that he wanted the stabbing victim “out of the picture” after Crockett was released from jail, according to Sentman.
The investigation started on Jan. 25, after CCDC officials contacted EPD detectives to report that they had intercepted an outgoing letter that raised concerns. CCDC inmates are subject to monitored phone conversations and checks on incoming and outgoing mail.
During a police interview, Maniscalco acknowledged that he had written the outgoing letter, which was addressed to his mother, but he denied any ill intent.
A Cecil County grand jury handed up a five-count indictment against Maniscalco in April, charging him with solicitation to commit first-degree murder and other offenses, court records show.
In his opening statement Wednesday, Sentman cautioned jurors that Maniscalco used roundabout language in making known his alleged desire to have the stabbing victim killed.
“It’s not explicit,” Sentman said, explaining that the essence, however, was there would be some sort of payment “if you get him (the stabbing victim) out of the way.”
In his opening statement, Christoforo told jurors that Maniscalco “adamantly denies” that he solicited anyone to have the stabbing victim murdered.
Christoforo also emphasized Wednesday that Crockett wanted early jail releases for his girlfriend and for himself, in exchange for helping investigators.
The next day, testimony from an EPD detective confirmed Christoforo’s assertion regarding Crockett seeking special consideration for himself and for his girlfriend in return for his cooperation.
“He made it up,” Christoforo alleged to jurors, before maintaining that the state’s case against Maniscalco would be based on “innuendo and false testimony.”
As for the attempted murder case against Maniscalco, he was sentenced to time served — 109 days — in July after accepting a binding plea deal, according to court records and Cecil Whig archives.
Maniscalco pleaded guilty to first-degree assault and, in exchange, prosecutors dropped all related charges, including the attempted murder counts.
Specifically, in accordance with the binding plea agreement, the judge imposed a 10-year sentence on Maniscalco before suspending all but the 109 days that Maniscalco already had served in jail as a pre-trial inmate. First-degree assault is punishable by up to 25 years in prison.
In addition, the judge placed Maniscalco on two years of supervised probation.
Cecil County State’s Attorney’s Office officials told the Cecil Whig in July that prosecutors offered the plea deal to Maniscalco because police had been unable to locate the stabbing victim before the start of Maniscalco’s scheduled attempted murder trial.
The office further explained that the stabbing victim had made himself unavailable to detectives and prosecutors for the past two months, hindering trial preparation and severely weakening the state’s case.