Man Jailed In Cocaine Case Says Plea Was Coerced

December 18, 1991|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff writer

A Taneytown man who was sentenced to 14 years in prison after pleading guilty to misdemeanor drug charges is trying to have the plea withdrawn, charging misconduct by the State's Attorney's Office.

In documents filed in Carroll County Circuit Court on Friday, lawyers for Fernando A. Hernandez say the plea agreement -- reached after the state's attorney dropped charges against Hernandez, his wife and his brother under Maryland's drug kingpin laws -- "was not entered into voluntarily" and was made without "an intelligent understanding of the nature of the offenses to which (Fernando Hernandez) pleaded guilty."

The papers also say that the plea agreement -- arranged by State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman, Assistant State's Attorney Barton F. Walker III and Hernandez attorneys Stephen P. Bourexis and Judith S. Stainbrook -- was unfair because of its coverage in the news media.

"Prosecutorial misconduct in misrepresenting the plea to the news media prior to the taking of the plea was inherently coercive and vitiated (negated) the voluntariness of the plea," said the motion filed last week.

Fernando Hernandez, 28, his wife, Bonnie, and his brotherHenry of Miami were indicted by a county grand jury in January on charges that they ran a Florida-to-Carroll County cocaine ring.

Hickman and the Carroll County Narcotics Task Force touted the group's arrest under the kingpin statute -- used when large amounts of drugs are involved -- because it was the first in the county.

Had the triobeen charged under the law, they could have received sentences of atleast 20 years in jail.

One of the reasons Fernando Hernandez took the plea agreement, court records said, is so his wife would receive lenient treatment.

Fernando Hernandez was sentenced to 14 years in prison for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute on Dec.3; his wife received a three-year suspended sentence and was placed on probation for a misdemeanor charge of conspiring to distribute cocaine.

Henry Hernandez, who under the agreement pleaded guilty to conspiracy to bring cocaine into the state, will be sentenced in Circuit Court on Friday.

He is represented by Public Defender Judson K.Larrimore and has not filed to have his plea withdrawn.

The State's Attorney's Office was not able to document in pretrial motions that the Hernandezes possessed more than 448 grams -- or a pound -- of cocaine, the amount required for the state to use the drug kingpin statute.

Reached yesterday for comment on the motion, Hickman said itis "groundless. There is no ground to justify this request."

Hickman's office will file a response to the motion by Dec. 28.

A reporter for The Carroll County Sun already has been subpoenaed to testify on behalf of the state.

Prosecutors also say they never approached the press with news of the plea agreement. The reporter may be asked to reveal how she learned of the plea agreement.

According to Maryland law, reporters are protected from having to reveal their sources and cannot be asked to reveal their notes or news gathering methods except when that information "is relevant to a significant legal issue . . . could not, with due diligence, be obtained by any alternate means . . . (serves) an overriding public interest."

The motion is scheduled to be considered Jan. 13 in Courtroom No. 2.

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