PRINCE FREDERICK -- Calvert County prosecutors eased yesterday their tough stance on a 56-year-old alcoholic charged with stealing a wallet and 45 cents from a purse he found on a bench next to a Huntingtown grocery store.
They suspended the charges and offered to drop them if Joseph Chase, who lives in a trailer near the store, seeks counseling and stays out of trouble for a year.
"After conversations with the defense counsel and other consultations, it was decided that it was in the best interests of all parties concerned," Michael K. Manning, deputy state's attorney, explained after the brief session in District Court here.
But if Mr. Chase does not keep his promise to seek counseling, "we still have the power to bring it back to court," Mr. Manning said.
Mr. Chase, a bearded man in worn clothing who speaks in monosyllables, nodded in agreement as Judge Stephen L. Clagett explained the procedures. "Right, right," he repeated.
Later, Mr. Chase, who works at odd jobs in his neighborhood, said he "drank too much" last Oct. 5, the day Karen Gardner of Falls Church, Va., left her purse on a bench outside Bowen's Grocery Store.
Ms. Gardner and her husband, John Phillips, returned about 45 minutes later to look for the purse, but it was gone. She found it in a trash bin across the street from the store.
Her credit cards, driver's license and checkbook were in a paper bag beside it, but she was missing an old wallet and about 45 cents.
State police arrested Mr. Chase after a woman at the store said she had seen him with the purse. He was charged with theft under $300.
Ms. Gardner, who said last week that she did not want to file charges and complained that the prosecution was "so ridiculous," could not be reached for comment yesterday.