Stabbing victim's family, friends outraged by deal for manslaughter plea

November 05, 1991|By Brian Sullam

.TC Family and friends of Charles Wright got very little satisfaction yesterday when his killer pleaded guilty to manslaughter and received a 12-year prison sentence.

"That was a rotten deal in there," said Clinton Wright, the victim's older brother, standing outside the Baltimore City Courthouse on Calvert Street. "To kill a man for two quarters is beyond belief."

Every day dozens of cases are disposed of through plea bargains, but it is a rare case when the family and friends make their displeasure so clearly known.

Mr. Wright stood up in Judge Elsbeth L. Bothe's courtroom yesterday and told her the deal was bad. He told the prosecutor and he told just about anybody that would listen.

"That was no justice in there. My brother was just snuffed out, and his murderer will be out in three or four years ready to kill again."

It was nearly midnight on Jan. 25 when Edward A. Moss, 39, accused Charles Wright of taking the 50 cents he had placed on the pool table at the Night Owl Bar, a neighborhood joint in the 2600 block of Woodland Avenue where Pimlico residents drink beer, listen to the jukebox and play pool.

Both men had been drinking heavily. Mr. Moss said Mr. Wright took the money. Mr. Wright denied it. They started yelling at each other and chasing each other around the pool table. Finally, one of the other patrons paid Mr. Moss $1 in hopes of settling the argument.

Mr. Moss left the bar but returned shortly. He stood outside in the cold winter air waiting for Mr. Wright to emerge. When Mr. Wright left the bar about 12:45 a.m., the argument started again.

Mr. Moss had a knife, and he plunged it into Mr. Wright's chest. By the time Mr. Wright, 39, arrived in Sinai Hospital's emergency room, he was dead of internal bleeding.

Given those facts, Clinton Wright couldn't understand why Assistant State's Attorney Richard D. Lawlor accepted a plea for the lesser charge of manslaughter.

After the hearing, when Mr. Lawlor tried to explain the legal reasoning for the guilty plea, Mr. Wright stomped out of the courthouse.

"I tried to tell him that there was no way that he [Mr. Moss] was going to plead guilty to first-degree murder and that I was concerned about the facts in the case if we had gone to trial," Mr. Lawlor said yesterday. "By accepting the guilty plea we are in no way justifying the behavior of the defendant. [Mr. Wright] thinks we are."

The prosecutor said there were several troublesome facts in the case. Juries can be instructed to make allowances for crimes committed while a person is drunk. Mr. Wright, a house painter, had a history of assaults, and Mr. Moss would say that he had armed himself in anticipation of an attack.

In addition, Mr. Lawlor said that Mr. Moss struck Mr. Wright only once, and only after the argument had flared again.

Mr. Wright's family wanted Mr. Moss to be convicted of premeditated murder because he had returned with a knife.

When Mr. Lawlor entered into negotiations with Gordon Tayback, Mr. Moss' lawyer, the prosecutor was seeking a plea to second-degree murder. He said that he wanted Mr. Moss to be committed to at least a 12-year prison sentence, which is the minimum under the state's sentencing guidelines for second-degree murder.

Mr. Tayback's response was that his client would plead to manslaughter, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.

Mr. Lawlor countered with an offer of a guilty plea to manslaughter, accepting a 10-year sentence and a guilty plea to use of a deadly weapon, with a two-year sentence to be served consecutively. The judge accepted that agreement.

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