Towson District Court Judge Blanche G. Wahl had a tough day on the bench during this holiday week, but it was even tougher for the defendants. Of the 14 people who stood before her, Wahl sent nine to state prison, prompting prosecutor J.T. Smith to remark that he'd "never sent so many people to jail in one day."
Of the other five defendants, one was released after spending the last month in jail for stiffing a cab driver for a $16 fare, one asked for a jury trial, one had charges dropped, one pleaded mental illness and the case of one was postponed.
The cases seemed to leave Wahl little room for holiday leniency during the Christmas Eve court session.
Take that of Steven Counts, for instance. The 21-year old Forest Hills man was convicted of drunk driving for the fourth time since January, and he's never possessed a Maryland driver's license.
He led county and city police on a four-mile chase east on U.S. 40 on Nov. 16, when he was clocked going 71 mph through a police radar trap in the 50 mph speed zone, according to court documents. The police said Counts, who was driving his father's pickup truck, appeared ready to stop. But then he sped away and ran three red lights by driving up on the curb and around cars stopped for the lights. City police finally arrested him. He was convicted of two drunk driving charges on Jan. 25, and another on March 11, for which he was still on probation when this latest incident occurred.
Counts, a slim youth with long, sandy hair, told Wahl he has a bad alcohol problem. She agreed, and sentenced him to two years in prison.
Robert Armstrong, 22, of Phoenix, was convicted of stealing a car and driving it on a revoked license. It was his fourth car-theft conviction. Armstrong, who was well dressed, neat and well spoken, told Judge Wahl he "had no explanation" for his repeated run-ins with the law. He served seven months in prison for one of the previous thefts, and is on probation for another.
Wahl kept asking Armstrong, "What's your problem?" But she finally shrugged and gave him 18 months in prison.
Among the other car thieves, shoplifters and miscreants appearing before Wahl, Kathleen Marie Gollahon, 30, seemed to have the best shot at holiday leniency -- at least at first glance.
Gollahon was charged with shoplifting four toddlers' dresses from J.C. Penney's and $31 worth of cosmetics and headache pills from a Giant supermarket. She was quickly found guilty on a statement of facts, but pleaded with the judge for drug treatment.
She explained that she has a ninth-grade education and four children, ranging in age from 6 months to 12 years, and said she became addicted to drugs after a baby died in 1986. That's why, Gollahon went on, she earlier had been prosecuted for failing to send at least one of her kids to school. She had moved several times, she said, and just didn't send them to school because she was distraught over the death of her baby.
"In 1991?" Judge Wahl asked. The school charge had been filed just this year.
The judge also noted that the two theft convictions made No. 3 and No. 4 for Gollahon.
Declaring that drug programs were more available in prison than outside, Wahl sentenced the blond, jeans-clad mother to one year behind bars.
In another case, Wahl told Terry Jones, 29, that she was being lenient on him. He didn't seem impressed, however, most likely because she sent him to prison for nine months for car theft.
A statement of facts revealed that Jones hitched a ride in July with a youth working as a lifeguard at the Hamilton Apartments' swimming pool in the northeast county. The youth was driving his mother's 1991 Toyota. At some point, Jones reached into his shirt and ordered the driver out. Jones then took off in the Toyota, and the car was found a month later in Petersburg, Va.
Jones also had earlier convictions for theft, trespassing and drug possession.