Killer's term cut 30 years in Harford Judge's order leaves victim's family angry

October 18, 1990|By S. M. Khalid | S. M. Khalid,Harford County Bureau of The Sun

BEL AIR -- A Harford County judge knocked 30 years off the sentence of a 22-year-old murderer yesterday, making him eligible for parole in four years and outraging the family of one of his victims.

The sentence reduction, from 63 years in prison to 33, was ordered by Harford Circuit Judge Cypert O. Whitfill, who according to a prosecutor based his decision on positive changes he perceived in Frank Paul Barnum since Barnum's sentencing in June 1988.

Janet Waitkus, 21, whose fiance, Dennis Comar, was one of two men slain by Barnum on her parents' front porch in March 1987, said yesterday that she was "very angry" at the news.

"I don't think it's fair," said Ms. Waitkus, whose father and older sister were also wounded when Barnum fired a single shotgun blast at the house after a traffic dispute with Mr. Comar on U.S. 40.

"I don't think the judge was worried about the victim's families at all," added Ms. Waitkus. "My whole life is ruined. . . . If he had lived, we'd probably be married, with kids and a house.

"I try not to think about it because it makes me sick."

Judge Whitfill, who heard testimony from Barnum and Barnum''s mother before reaching his decision, modified two 30-year sentences on second-degree murder convictions by making them concurrent instead of consecutive. Barnum's sentences also include three years for using a firearm in the commission of a crime.

The judge could not be reached yesterday for comment. But prosecutors said he was favorably impressed by Barnum's having joined several inmate groups.

Under the original sentence, Barnum would have had to serve at least 15 years before becoming eligible for parole.

Under the new sentence, he will be eligible for parole after serving about eight years -- or, in about four years' time.

Barnum was convicted of two counts of second-degree murder and one count of attempted second-degree murder in the shooting deaths of Mr. Comar of Abingdon and Dewey L. Martin, 55, of Baltimore.

Mr. Martin, a longtime friend of the Waitkuses, had just arrived for an overnight visit before a planned weekend fishing trip with them.

The two men were killed after being struck by a single blast from a sawed-off, 12-gauge shotgun.

"I don't think he deserves to get off like that," said Lucy Waitkus, Janet's mother. "He killed two people. He's ruined three families. It's just not right. Too many people are let out of jail and turn around and do these things again.

At his trial, Barnum claimed that he had been cut off by Mr. Comar while driving on U.S. 40. The two exchanged words, and Barnum followed Mr. Comar and his fiancee back to her Philadelphia Road home.

The argument continued, with the men shouting back and forth from the car to the porch.

At the trial, Ms. Waitkus' father, Joseph Vernon Waitkus, 46, admitted to having fired a warning shot in the direction of Barnum's car while the parties argued. Mr. Waitkus and his daughter, Kimberly, were both injured when Barnum fired his shotgun blast.

Just before the shooting, Mr. Comar telephoned the Harford County Sheriff's Department to report that he had been tailgated and harassed by a man driving a Ford Mustang on U.S. 40. He gave deputies the Mustang's license plate number. Deputies arrived minutes after the shooting occurred, and Barnum had fled.

Deputies traced the license number of his car to his Kingsville residence and recovered the murder weapon from his car.

At his trial, Barnum claimed he had been drinking heavily at the time of the murder and was suffering from cocaine withdrawal as well. Barnum has been serving his sentence at the Patuxent Institution in Jessup.

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