Two decades after a Frederick teen’s death, a jury has convicted a man of her murder.
After about three hours of deliberation Wednesday, a Frederick County jury convicted 54-year-old Lloyd Arbard Harris on charges related to raping and killing Stacy Lynn Hoffmaster in 1996.
The jury convicted him of murder, rape and third-degree sex offense in the 15-year-old’s killing.
Hoffmaster disappeared on Oct. 1, 1996, and she was found dead on Dec. 23 of that year in the woods near Interstate 70 and East South Street in Frederick.
Harris will face life in prison when he is sentenced. He is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 7, but his attorneys indicated they may seek a postponement at that time.
After the jury left the courtroom, Hoffmaster’s family comforted one another and hugged prosecutors.
“Stacy finally has justice. I’m sorry she had to wait so long,” Deputy State’s Attorney Nanci Hamm said after the trial.
When prosecutors pursued charges so many years after the murder, Hamm said all she could say was that when she reviewed the cold case, she decided it would be appropriate to do so.
Frederick County State’s Attorney Charlie Smith appeared pleased with the verdict.
“This is the biggest victory our office has had in the past decade,” he said, noting how many years the case went unsolved.
Harris frowned, kept his head bowed and shook his head slightly after the verdict was read.
Public Defender Matthew Frawley, one of his attorneys, wrote in an email that Harris was disappointed with the jury’s decision and planned to appeal the verdict. Harris continued to maintain that he did not kill Hoffmaster, Frawley said.
With no witness to Hoffmaster’s murder, prosecutors used forensic evidence and items found on her body to link Harris to the crime.
Hoffmaster’s body was discovered about 50 yards from a camp Harris had built to hang out away from his mother’s house. Her body was bound with yellow cord that detectives believed was the same type used to hold up a tarp at Harris’ camp. She was also covered with a blue packing blanket from the site.
Harris’ attorneys argued that whoever killed Hoffmaster could have used those materials simply because they were nearby. The fact they were found on the body did not mean Harris killed Hoffmaster, Frawley said.
“The state’s case is predicated on trash found in the woods,” Frawley said, dismissing the connection between the materials and the murder.
Prosecutors countered that forensic evidence also pointed to Harris as the killer.
DNA testing showed that Harris had sex with Hoffmaster. He admitted that when confronted by detectives with the evidence, but he denied killing her. He told police in recorded interviews that if he had killed her, he didn’t remember doing it.
Harris said that he and Hoffmaster had consensual sex about three to four days before she vanished. His attorneys emphasized that the admission did not mean that he murdered the girl. Frawley, in his closing statements, displayed a large paper pad that said “sex ≠ murder.”
Prosecutors argued that Harris’ account could not be true. An autopsy exam found a significant amount of an enzyme found in semen in Hoffmaster’s body. The forensic scientist who conducted the exam said that showed Hoffmaster was killed within 48 hours of intercourse, but it was likely to have been within just six hours.
“His version of events is scientifically impossible,” Hamm said.
Harris’ attorneys argued that it was impossible to estimate how time passed between when Harris and Hoffmaster had intercourse and when she died, saying there were too many variables to accurately measure the enzyme’s rate of decay.
Hamm continued that it appeared that Hoffmaster’s clothes were ripped off, judging by damaged undergarments found near the scene. The clothes’ condition showed that the sex was not consensual, she said.
Much of Harris’ defense hinged on the possibility that Hoffmaster was not killed Oct. 1, 1996, because that would open up the pool of potential suspects.
They called to the stand a childhood friend of Hoffmaster’s who told police that she received a phone call from Hoffmaster around Oct. 10, 1996. In court Wednesday, however, the friend said she did not remember saying that. She said she was 13 or 14 years old at the time and may have been mistaken.
Prosecutors asserted that Hoffmaster was killed Oct. 1, 1996, because none of her loved ones heard from her after that date.
Additionally, when she was found dead, she was wearing a watch she borrowed from a friend that day. The clothes found near her body were the sweatsuit witnesses said she wore on Oct. 1, 1996.
The autopsy showed a potato-like substance in her stomach, which would have been consistent with french fries, part of what witnesses said was her last meal.
Her autopsy was not able to determine an exact date of death, but the examiner said Oct. 1, 1996, was within the window of possibility.
Hoffmaster’s family declined to comment after the verdict.