State's best efforts failed to keep youth from crime

May 13, 1991|By M. Dion Thompson

In the end, all of the state's efforts to break 21-year-old Aaron D. Sample's slide into crime were for naught.

Four years ago, Sample broke into Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical Senior High School and set a fire. For that he was given juvenile probation and counseling.

Three years ago, after pleading guilty to two armed robberies, he was sent to the state's Youthful Offender Program at the Maryland Correctional Training Center in Hagerstown.

There, with the help of intensive guidance counseling, schooling and vocational training, he won his parole.

His freedom lasted one week short of a year.

Last November, in what prosecutors would later describe as "a rampage of crime," Sample robbed three women, kidnapped two of them and tried to rape one of them, all in one week. Sample's victims identified him, and he was soon arrested by members of a special task force the police had established just to catch him.

Last week, he was sentenced in Baltimore Circuit Court to 100 years in prison. He is out of chances -- at least for the rest of this century, and possibly forever.

"This man is a dangerous person," said Judge Thomas Ward, who sentenced Sample. "I want him incarcerated long enough so that when he gets out, hopefully he will have received the treatment that is necessary. If not, I don't think he should be released."

Eighteen months ago, the state Parole Board released Sample from the Maryland Correctional Training Center, after he had been imprisoned for slightly more than two years.

Only 19 years old at the time of his parole, Sample was in the highest risk category for prison inmates. According to a 1987 survey by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, inmates ages 16 to 22 have a less than one in three chance of avoiding future crimes. The report stated that 69 percent of the inmates were rearrested within six years of their first release; 53 percent were convicted of a new offense; and 49 percent went back to prison.

Though Sample may not have been aware of those statistics, he knew it would not be easy to escape the whirlpool of crime. In a 1988 interview with The Sun, when he was in the Youthful Offender Program, he said:

"I got to start from the bottom again and work my way up. . . . I know drugs will be around for a while, but I'm just gonna have to leave it alone."

At another point in the interview, he said:

"People used to tell me: 'Boy, you know where you're going?' And I'd say: Man, I ain't going to no jail. I'm never going to jail. But I wound up right in there. . . . My parents seen me taking this fall. They tried to talk to me, but at that time I was only listening to myself. I didn't care about nobody."

After his parole, Sample beat the odds for almost a year. Then, he broke. Whatever supports sustained him since leaving prison crumbled.

"The big question that's out there for everyone is, 'Are the improvements long lasting?' and it's hard to know," said Judge John Carroll Byrnes, an advocate for more and better programs for young criminals.

"What could trip the wire is something very, intensely personal that no one can predict."

Given the circumstances of Sample's early years, it would have been hard to predict that one day he would be sentenced to 100 years in prison.

He does not come from one of those broken, drug-ridden homes common to many criminals. His parents were stable, working people. They still live in the East Baltimore home they moved into 20 years ago.

According to court records, Sample's grades in elementary school were for the most part above average, and he held several jobs as a teen-ager, including a stint with the grounds crew at Memorial Stadium.

But in ninth grade, his world started to unravel. He repeated the grade and started smoking marijuana. He tried 10th grade at Mergenthaler, set a fire there and transferred to Lake Clifton High School. A month later, he dropped out.

The following summer, at the age of 17, he committed two armed robberies and was tried as an adult.

At that time a court psychologist said that there was nothing the Juvenile Services Administration could do for Sample and that "any sentencing should consider his need for treatment."

The Hagerstown program seemed to be working until last November when, for reasons unknown, Sample picked up a .25-caliber automatic pistol and started prowling the streets of East Baltimore.

His was a simple, terrifying scheme. He would walk up to women, show them his gun, then make them do what he wanted.

On Nov. 11, he threatened to kill one woman, stole her coat, said,"Thank you," and ran off.

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