Cheswold man fails to overturn conviction in wife’s rape

DOVER — A Cheswold man convicted of raping his wife and attempting to have her killed to avoid testimony was denied in a bid to vacate the verdict last week.

Mark A. Bartell appealed to the Delaware Supreme Court that two alleged trial errors improperly influenced a jury to convict him of two counts of second-degree rape, one count of fourth-degree rape and two counts of second-degree criminal solicitation.

The then 51-year-old was subsequently sentenced to 75 years of prison, followed by various levels of probation, according to a nine-page order issued by Justice Gary T. Traynor last Thursday.

Mark A. Batell

The Supreme Court found that the rape and solicitation allegations were properly presented as one case in Superior Court.

“Bartell’s solicitation of the two prison inmates to kill his wife was admissible on the original charges to show his consciousness of guilt,” Judge Traynor wrote on a matter that was submitted to the court on Jan. 17.

“Had the solicitation charges been severed, the State would have had to call many of the same witnesses from the trial of the underlying charges to show why Bartell was offering the inmates money to kill his wife.”

While Bartell’s concern that his incarceration when the solicitations were made could potentially sway a jury was valid, Justice Traynor reasoned that “the trial court met his concern by instructing the jurors two separate times that they should not infer that the pretrial detention had any bearing on his guilt.

“In sum, Bartell has not demonstrated that he suffered any substantial prejudice by virtue of the joinder of offenses.”

While he did not call for a mistrial at the time, according to Supreme Court, Bartell objected to supposed “injection of unsolicited, inadmissible and highly prejudicial testimony from multiple State witnesses, regarding Bartell’s prior history.”

The post-trial objections involved a nurse’s inadmissible testimony about Bartell’s wife statement taken from an improperly redacted court document, according to the order.

Also referenced was a prison phone call between Bartell and his sister in which a protection from abuse order was referenced.

“In the first instance, Bartell agreed that a curative instruction was sufficient and, in the second, made a strategic decision to decline the court’s offer to give an instruction,” Justice Traynor said.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court found that “substantial prejudice” came from the “inappropriate references.”

The claim was undercut by a jury’s decision not to convict Bartell of offensive touching and terroristic threatening charges, the Supreme Court reasoned and lesser-convicted rape counts.

It was “a verdict that could scarcely be attributed to an inflamed jury,” Justice Traynor said.

“In short, there was no plain error here.”

Staff writer Crai

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