One of the leaders of a group of shotgun bandits that robbed dozens of businesses last winter was sentenced to 60 years in prison yesterday on his guilty pleas to three robberies in Baltimore County.
"I don't want people to have the wrong idea that I was some kind of barbarian monster out there," Eric Cornell Wheeler told Judge Edward A. DeWaters Jr. before sentencing.
Wheeler, 30, of the 1100 block of McKean Avenue, Baltimore, said he didn't have a problem with drugs, alcohol or gambling.
"I did these things because I thought they were right," he said. "Well, they were wrong [but] I want people to understand that, what I felt at the time, I thought was morally right."
Wheeler has been jailed since his surrender in the March 7 robbery of the State Employees' Credit Union in Towson, when he held 13 employees hostage after his five accomplices left him in the building on LaSalle Road.
In a March interview, Mr. Wheeler and co-defendant Tony Maurice Bedford said they acted to avenge centuries of oppression and planned to rob white businesses to finance black-owned enterprises.
But Assistant State's Attorney Mickey J. Norman told the judge yesterday that some of Wheeler's victims were black and that the stolen money was spent on guns, jewelry, clothing and a down payment on an Isuzu Trooper.
"To say this is a serious crime is an understatement," Mr. Norman said in seeking a 60-year term, rather than the 28- to 40-year term recommended in the court's sentencing guidelines and by Assistant Public Defender Gerald W. Vahle.
Wheeler also pleaded guilty in two Feb. 28 robberies in which two salesmen were struck at Imperial Pontiac in the 1700 block of Woodlawn Drive, and an employee was shot at the Holiday Inn in the 1700 block of Reisterstown Road. Charges in other county robberies were dropped as part of the plea bargain.
Wheeler will be sentenced Nov. 14 on his guilty pleas to robberies in Baltimore.
Mr. Bedford, 19, of Baltimore, also known as Sadiyq Abdullah Muhammed, will be tried this fall in Baltimore in 14 robberies. He also will be tried in three robberies in Baltimore County, including a charge of attempted murder in the wounding of the Holiday Inn clerk.