SNOW HILL – Accused West Ocean City murderer Gregory W. Stokes, 31, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and aggravated cruelty to an animal yesterday morning in Worcester County Circuit Court and now faces a maximum of 33 years combined for the two convictions.
Stokes was charged in the shooting death of Pamela Jean Balk in her parents’ West Ocean City home on January 11. After a bizarre sequence of events identified Stokes as the prime suspect in the case, he was arrested in Baltimore less than 24 hours after the discovery of the victim’s body and her dog, which had been struck so hard on its head that its eyes dislodged from their sockets.
In a pre-arranged deal between Worcester County State’s Attorney Joel Todd and defense attorney Neil Brafman during a scheduled motions hearing on Monday morning, Stokes pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and the aggravated cruelty to an animal charge and the other charges against him, including first-degree murder, were not prosecuted.
Stokes now faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in jail for the second-degree murder conviction and an additional three years in jail for the animal cruelty charge. A pre-sentence investigation was ordered, and pending the arrival of the final psychiatric report on Stokes’ competency to stand trial, the convicted murderer is scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 8.
The attorneys entered the courtroom on Monday prepared to present the pre-arranged plea bargain, but the formal acceptance of the deal by Judge Theodore Eschenberg was briefly delayed because the final report on Stokes’ competency to stand trial had not come in from a state psychiatric hospital.
A short time later, however, Todd received a call from the state doctor who examined Stokes, which confirmed the defendant was criminally responsible for the crimes. A formal written report will be forwarded to the court in advance of Stokes’ sentencing hearing.