SNOW HILL – Convicted West Ocean City murderer Gregory W. Stokes, 31, will learn his fate next week when he appears in Worcester County Circuit Court for a sentencing hearing which could put him behind bars for as many as 33 years.
On June 4, Stokes pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and aggravated cruelty to an animal in a pre-arranged deal between the state prosecutors and his defense lawyer and now faces as many as 33 years in jail for the combined convictions. The second-degree murder conviction carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in jail, while the cruelty to an animal charge carries a maximum of three years in jail. His sentencing hearing is set for next Wednesday, Aug. 8, in Snow Hill.
In the pre-arranged deal between Worcester County State’s Attorney Joel Todd and defense attorney Neil Brafman, Stokes pleaded guilty to the two charges in exchange for having the other charges, including first-degree murder, against him dropped. The formalizing of the deal was delayed briefly in June because the court had not yet received the final report from the state psychiatrist who examined Stokes after Brafman filed a motion to declare his client not criminally responsible.
However, the state psychiatrist called Todd during the motions hearing in June and confirmed he was criminally responsible. Brafman, who sat in on the conference call, then agreed to move forward with the arranged plea bargain with the understanding a formal written report would be sent to the court prior to the sentencing hearing next week.
The case began with the discovery of a handgun in a car belonging to the victim’s family involved in an accident in Salisbury on Jan. 11 and ended with the capture of Stokes in Baltimore less than 24 hours later.
On Thursday, Jan. 11, Maryland State Police responded to a motor vehicle accident on Route 13 at the Route 50 ramp near Salisbury and discovered an unoccupied 2001 Kia registered to the victim’s father, William Ralph Balk, of Dockside Drive in Ocean City, in a ditch along the roadside.
As the vehicle was being towed, the Maryland State Trooper investigating the incident noticed a .38-caliber handgun on the floor of the truck. A short time later, Salisbury Police notified the State Police that the driver had taken a Salisbury City Cab from the scene. The cab was identified and subsequently stopped on eastbound Route 50 near Arthur W. Perdue Stadium. Stokes was found inside the cab and identified as the missing driver of the KIA. Stokes, who appeared intoxicated, according to police reports, told the trooper his girlfriend was driving the KIA and they had had an argument and decided to part ways.
At that time, the trooper noticed a “soft-sided” leather holster inside the crotch area of Stokes’ pants. Stokes told the trooper he used the holster to carry his cell phone. With no further information available, Stokes was released and allowed to continue on his way in the Salisbury taxicab, according to police reports.
Not long after the trooper released Stokes and allowed him to continue on his way in the taxi, the MSP Salisbury Barrack got a call from a man who identified himself as Samuel Cavanaugh, who said “just after lunch” he had received a call from Stokes. Cavanaugh told police Stokes said “he had killed his girlfriend” and had “shot her a few times,” according to police reports.
Because of the information provided by Cavanaugh, and because the KIA was registered to the victim’s father, Worcester County Bureau of Investigation (WCBI) detectives went to the Dockside Drive residence in Mystic Harbour in West Ocean City around 1:30 p.m. that afternoon. The MSP Salisbury barrack had contacted the MSP Berlin barrack and advised that the Salisbury City Cab driver had dropped Stokes off at the Dockside Drive residence earlier.
Meanwhile, the WCBI detectives that responded to the Mystic Harbor residence looked through a sliding glass door and observed a female, later identified as Pamela Balk, lying motionless on a sleeper sofa. After unsuccessful attempts to wake the female, the detectives forced entry into the residence and discovered the deceased victim had been shot several times in the face and head, according to police reports.
Police also discovered the victim’s dog in a back bedroom and the animal had been “struck with such force as to cause the animal’s eye to dislocate from the socket,” according to police reports.
The timeline in the police report is sketchy in terms of the actual times in the sequence of events, but it appears Stokes allegedly committed the crime sometime Thursday morning, first left the scene in the KIA, took a taxi cab back to the Mystic Harbor residence and later left in a Jeep Wrangler owned by the victim’s parents.
The discovery of the KIA and later questioning of Stokes in the cab in Salisbury took place sometime in the late morning hours. The call to Cavanaugh from Stokes about what he had done occurred “just after lunch,” and a witness, a resident on Dockside Drive, told police she saw Stokes leaving leaving the victim’s home in the Jeep Wrangler between 12:15 and 12:30 p.m. WCBI detectives arrived at the victim’s Dockside Drive residence around 1:30 p.m. and discovered the body a short time later.