Bar owner gets 25-year term in 1987 contract killing Payoff was $500 and six-pack of beer

September 25, 1990|By Raymond L. Sanchez | Raymond L. Sanchez,Evening Sun Staff

A South Baltimore bar owner, who paid for the contract murder of an FBI informant with $500 and a six-pack of beer, has received a 25-year prison sentence for his role in the 1987 slaying.

"There is no crime that requires this court to be more stern in its sentencing than the murder of a federal witness," U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz said yesterday in sentencing 57-year-old Victor C. Fincham.

Fincham was one of three people convicted in 1988 for the murder of FBI witness-informant Leonas J. "Leon" Vitkauskas, a small-time thief whose ambition was to score big with an armored car robbery.

He was killed in June 1987 to prevent him from testifying in an armored-car-robbery case against Dale J. Benjamin Sr., who, according to federal prosecutors, allegedly contracted from jail to get Vitkauskas killed. Benjamin was convicted in the robbery case anyway. But he was acquitted of the murder charges in 1988.

Triggerman Cleveland E. "Reds" Miller, of Brooklyn, who gave critical testimony against two co-defendants in the case, was sentenced last month to 20 years in prison. Cecil A. Odom, alias Bud Kelly, a convicted armed robber and former escapee, was given a sentence of life plus 10 years last July for luring Vitkauskas to his death.

According to testimony in the 1988 trial, Kelly lured Vitkauskas out of My Bar, which was owned by Fincham, and into a car with him and Miller. Vitkauskas was taken to a dark back road in Anne Arundel County, where Miller shot him twice and then ran over him with a car.

Fincham, who was convicted of murder, witness-tampering and other charges, later gave Miller $500 in cash and six beers for the contract killing, trial testimony showed.

Under a cooperation agreement reached with the defendant, U.S. Attorney Breckinridge L. Willcox asked the judge for a sentence of less than the maximum of life plus 25 years so that Fincham would be "eligible for parole before the expiration of his natural life."

Defense lawyer Robert B. Schulman argued that Fincham once owned two bars and some real estate and lead a "productive life." Fincham was the least culpable of the defendants, Schulman said, and was not even present when Vitkauskas was killed. The defense lawyer asked for a 10-year sentence.

Motz acknowledged that Fincham had cooperated with federal authorities in the cases against the other defendants. But, the judge added, "I don't know who is the most guilty."

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