A 77-year-old man with acute leukemia, who has been held by police for eight months, has pleaded guilty in absentia to dealing drugs.
DelValle Santos, who has been in custody since Feb. 23 and is now under treatment at the University of Maryland Cancer Center, entered his plea through his lawyer, Leslie A. Stein, in Baltimore Circuit Court yesterday.
After Santos pleaded guilty to charges of possessing drugs with intent to distribute and using his home to sell drugs, Judge Arrie W. Davis sentenced him to the eight months he already has served.
He is now a free man, although he remains hospitalized. He had not been free on bail since his arrest.
Santos' case had languished because of postponements and the state's refusal to sever it from the case of co-defendant Luz C. Locklear, Santos' daughter. When the case was set for trial Oct. 19, Santos was in a hospital bed and the state refused to back off its plea offer of a four-year term.
"I don't understand how justice was served by forcing the defendant to take a plea rather than doing the humanitarian thing and dismissing the case," Stein said. "Mr. Santos is hardly a major drug figure, and it's really ludicrous to have to take a plea in absentia so the state can get its pound of flesh and some assistant state's attorney can add to his statistical conviction rate."
Assistant State's Attorney Martin J. Clarke said the defense gave no written proof of Santos' illness Oct. 19. "Defense counsel was not forthcoming at trial with any evidence to substantiate his claim that the defendant is seriously ill," he said.
The state's offer, Clarke said, was based on Santos' conviction on the same charges in May 1989. Santos received a suspended two-year prison term and two years' probation in that case.
"The state can't ignore the fact of the second conviction whether you're 77 or 107," Clarke said. "The state can't ignore the fact the man was selling cocaine out of his house. And while police were there, customers were coming to the door. His impact on the neighborhood was substantial despite his physical infirmity."
Dr. Stan Pamfilis, of the University of Maryland Cancer Center, said in a letter to Stein late last month that Santos has acute leukemia, which was "quite progressed and life-threatening."
Stein said yesterday that doctors reported it would have cost the City Jail more than $250,000 to continue hospitalization and treatment of Santos if he had remained in custody. The defendant, who has 10 children and many grandchildren, had limited visitation rights as a prisoner.
"For some reason, the assistant state's attorney felt that this was so important a case -- less than $200 worth of cocaine -- that he could not dismiss it and let this man and his family get on with this terrible battle."
Santos and Locklear, 34, of the 8100 block of Boundary Road in Baltimore County, were arrested Feb. 23 after a police raid on Santos' home in the 1300 block of Bonsal St.
Santos ran from his living room into the kitchen and attempted to stuff 12 plastic bags of cocaine and some money into a garbage disposal, court records show. They also show that as officers searched the apartment, three people came to the door, allegedly to buy cocaine.
Locklear's trial on charges of possession with intent to distribute is scheduled for January.