SNOW HILL — An Ocean City man convicted of first-degree murder after running over a convenience store employee with his vehicle multiple times during a dispute over $10 was sentenced this week in Circuit Court to 20 years in jail, half of which was then suspended.
Richard L. Edwards, 65, of Ocean City, was initially charged with attempted first-degree murder and other serious charges after an incident last June 9 during which he ran over north-end 7-Eleven employee Michael Curry multiple times after a dispute about the change he received following a transaction. In April, Edwards reached a plea agreement during which he entered an Alford plea to first-degree assault, a charge that carries a maximum penalty of 25 years in jail.
Back in court on Tuesday for a sentencing hearing, Edwards was sentenced to 20 years in jail, with 10 years then suspended. He was also placed on supervised probation for five years upon his release and was ordered to pay restitution to the victim in an amount as yet undetermined by the court.
Around 12:20 p.m. last June 9, Ocean City police responded to a reported fight at the 7-Eleven on 139th Street. The investigation revealed a dispute over change began in the store. Edwards argued he had given Curry a $20 bill, but the clerk said Edwards had given him a $10 bill. As the argument in the crowded store escalated, Edwards reached across the counter and struck Curry before heading out the door. According to testimony on Tuesday, Curry told Edwards his shift was ending soon and if his cash drawer was over $10, he would realize the error and return the money to Edwards.
Edwards left the store and Curry followed, dialing 911 while attempting to get Edwards’ license plate number. The situation escalated outside the store with both men involved in a brief physical altercation before Edwards got into his Cadillac Escalade with a female passenger inside. Curry was standing behind the Escalade attempting to get the tag number when Edwards put in reverse and clipped Curry, knocking him to the ground. According to testimony on Tuesday, Edwards’ passenger saw Curry behind the vehicle and reached over and took the vehicle out of reverse and put it in park. However, Edwards shifted back to reverse and backed over the victim, knocking him to the ground.
Curry got back on his feet and was still on the phone attempting to get the tag number when Edwards put the vehicle in drive and ran over Curry. When he attempted to leave the scene, the north entrance of the parking lot was blocked by a delivery truck, so Edwards executed a three-point turn and drove over Curry a second time while he still laid on the ground before leaving the scene through a south exit.
During the sentencing hearing on Tuesday, Worcester County State’s Attorney Beau Oglesby described Edwards driving over Curry as deliberate and vicious.
“Edwards applied the gas and ran over him,” he said. “He ran over him at least two times. Mr. Curry’s shirt had tire impressions on it.”
Oglesby said Ocean City police stopped Edwards on the road while he was driving to his apartment. Edwards testified earlier he had gone back to the scene, but the evidence and witness testimony did not concur with his statement.
“He made no attempt to return,” he said. “Despite his testimony, there is no evidence of an attempt to return. He ran over Mr. Curry like he was a speed bump, with no more consideration than a speed bump.”
Curry suffered multiple critical injuries including nine broken vertebrae, 12 broken ribs, one punctured lung, one collapsed lung, a broken calf and a broken knee. He was flown to Shock Trauma where spent the next seven-plus months in a coma. He has had multiple surgeries since, and continues to receive treatment, but likely will never completely recover, according to testimony on Tuesday.
“This case is as much about Michael Curry as it is Edwards,” said Oglesby. “He lives with this every moment of his life. June 9 changed his life forever and it will never be the same.”
Curry demonstrated for the court his physical limitations and described his mental state in the months following the incident. He said he was once a healthy, active father who worked hard and participated in numerous recreational sports, but is now a shadow of his former self.
“It changed who I am,” he said. “I can’t do the simplest of things. I’d like to be a normal, functioning father, but I can’t even bend down. I can’t pick up my child, and I can’t even carry a gallon of milk and a flight of steps might as well be Mount Everest. Getting in and out of bed takes an hour and I can’t sleep. I only sleep about 10 hours a week.”
Curry told the court his greatest wish is to return to some semblance of normalcy if only for his young children.
“I’m trying to do the best I can, but I have to be honest, I’m not doing a very good job,” he said. “All I can do is not quit and hope one day might be better.”
Oglesby said Curry’s injuries have not limited his will.
“We have here a 45-year-old man whose body is broken, but his spirit is not broken,” he said. “It is obvious this incident was avoidable and it can’t be characterized as an accident. Edwards caused the pain and suffering Michael Curry goes through every day and will for his entire lifetime.”
Defense attorney E. Scott Collins acknowledged Edwards initiated the altercation, but attempted to paint what happened next as more of an accident.
“This is going to be a difficult situation because there is going to be no winners here,” he said. “He saw him for a second, then he didn’t see him again. This is not a situation where he tried to run up on the sidewalk to hit somebody. He was just trying to leave.”
Co-counsel Kathy Smith described Edwards as a veteran who served in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne and was awarded a Purple Heart and a Silver Star for his service. Smith said Edwards continues to suffer from post-traumatic distress disorder and is one numerous medications for depression and anxiety.
“He suffers from a variety of mental disorders that affect his cognitive abilities,” she said. “Since this case began, we’ve noticed his cognitive abilities have deteriorated.”
A woman with whom Edwards had been in a long-term relationship testified she continued to care for Edwards even after they had separated. The witness told the court made sure he took his medication, and when she went to his apartment following the incident, she discovered he had taken only about three days’ worth of the two weeks of medication she had carefully laid out for him in pill cases.
Another witness to testify on Edwards’ behalf said he was a long-time neighbor and close friend. The neighbor said Edwards was a caring, thoughtful man who had never shown any propensity for violence. Yet another witness, the pastor and Edwards’ church said Edwards appeared troubled in the weeks and days leading up to the incident.
When it was his turn to speak, Edwards appeared contrite and reached out to the victim with an apology.
“I want to tell Mr. Curry I am truly sorry,” he said. “I did not want any of this to happen. I’m an elderly man and I’m not a violent man. I am truly sorry from the bottom of my heart … I go over it and over it and I just can’t believe it happened. The money wasn’t an issue. I would have given him double the money if I could have prevented this. I would give anything in the world for this not to have happened.”
After listening to hours of testimony from both sides, Circuit Court Judge Thomas Groton characterized the incident as a senseless tragedy.
“You did this over a little bit of money, which makes it all the more tragic,” he said. “What really stands out is that this was a brutal and vicious attack on Mr. Curry with disregard for the sanctity of life. You didn’t value his life when you ran over him.”
Groton said it was remarkable Curry survived the attack.
“The natural consequence of having been run over multiple times is death,” he said. “I’m frankly shocked he is still alive. The video evidence from the store shows you were the aggressor. You reached over the counter and hit him, then you ramped it up when you went outside and he followed you.”
With that said, Groton sentenced Edwards to 20 years, with all but 10 years suspended.
“It’s unbelievable what he has had to go through as a result, both physically and mentally,” he said. “He was run over at least two times and he has said it sounded like hearing the crunching of a bag of potato chips. What you did was ruin his life, all over a dispute over $10. Because you did this over $10, you present to me a dangerous person. It’s hard to fathom what could have been going through your mind.”