Victim's kin wants driver off the road

June 13, 1991|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Evening Sun Staff

The brother of a Baltimore County man killed by a drunken driver says he'll launch a petition drive to prevent his brother's slayer from getting a driver's license.

"I just want to make sure he doesn't take anyone else's life," Norman Jones said yesterday after hearing that his brother's killer would be spared a five-year prison sentence because of a $35 traffic citation that he paid.

"I would like him to never be able to drive in the United States again," Norman Jones said.

On May 29, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, citing double jeopardy, overturned the manslaughter conviction of John Charles Glasser, 37, because he had paid a $35 traffic citation.

The court considered the citation for driving the wrong way on the Baltimore Beltway to be the "same conduct" that resulted in the death of Everett Lee Jones, 30, of North Point, the court threw out Glasser's conviction on grounds of double jeopardy.

Everett Jones was driving home from his girlfriend's house the night of June 30, 1989, when Glasser's Ford pickup truck slammed into his car. "It's absurd," said Norman Jones, "to think someone can get away with a $35 ticket for taking someone's life."

In Baltimore yesterday, police officers assigned to the traffic unit met with prosecutors to get advice in handling cases where someone is seriously injured in an accident and may possibly die. Should tickets be issued in such a case? No, the prosecutors said.

In Towson, Baltimore County prosecutor John P. Cox, who handled the Glasser case, found himself besieged by calls from angry citizens who wanted to know how something like this could happen.

In Annapolis, Glasser's attorney, Gil Cochran, who was quoted as saying the case was "fun," spent the day defending himself. "You're damn right it was a fun case," he said. "But it wasn't 'ha-ha' fun. It was fun because it's an interesting case."

In Bel Air, Joseph I. Cassilly, the Harford County prosecutor, criticized the decision by three Court of Special Appeals judges to free Glasser on a legal technicality.

"They are as wrong as rain on this thing," he said. "But what do you expect? You got a bunch of liberal judges appointed by a bunch of liberal governors. And without some [tougher] judges, you're going to get these screwball decisions."

The decision by Judges Charles E. Moylan Jr., Robert F. Fischer and James S. Getty basically echoes two precedent-setting cases, one a Supreme Court case decided last spring, the other a Maryland case decided last August.

In those cases, the Supreme Court and the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, ruled that a defendant cannot be prosecuted twice for the "same conduct."

What creates the legal loophole is the fact that motorists who cause fatal accidents, but who are issued a payable ticket, can essentially convict themselves by paying the traffic citation, usually before a more serious charge can be lodged.

At the time Glasser was issued his $35 citation for driving the wrong way, neither the Supreme Court case nor the other Maryland case had been decided. At the time, Baltimore County police did not make a practice of not writing tickets for traffic offenses related to fatalities, said Cox.

Now, of course, prosecutors in some Maryland jurisdictions have instructed police to withhold writing tickets when fatal accidents occur.

William D. Roessler, a deputy state's attorney in Anne Arundel County, said that since 1979, his office has asked that police not write payable tickets in fatality cases because the double jeopardy issue had been raised in a drunken driving case there. "The problem is you have this system in place to handle all the non-fatal cases," said Roessler. "And it works fine. You throw the monkey wrench in there whenever you have a fatal case."

Sometimes, Roessler acknowledged, police mistakenly issue tickets in such cases. Prosecutors quickly drop those charges, if they can, before District Court fines are paid, leaving the door open for prosecution. "If you don't catch it, double jeopardy can rear its ugly head," said Roessler.

Cassilly believes the Court of Special Appeals erred in Glasser's case, despite the other precedents. That's because, Cassilly argued, the traffic citation was for conduct that didn't just happen at the time of the fatal crash. "He'd been driving the wrong way for some time before the accident." Thus, the offense should be separated from the manslaughter charge, Cassilly said.

Meanwhile, Glasser is at the Poplar Hill Pre-Release Unit in Quantico on the Eastern Shore, awaiting his release from prison, which is expected shortly.

His attorney, Cochran, said he believes the public outrage against his client is unproductive.

"Everybody wants to see this man hang," Cochran said. "They want to lock him up and throw away the key." But that's not the answer, Cochran said, treatment is.

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