Convict-witness Enters Prison Looking Over His Shoulder

Protective Environment Sought For Man In State System

January 15, 1992|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff writer

Wendell Julian Daniels is about to enter a world where steel bucket handles are fashioned into shanks, where shanks are sometimes used against witnesses for the prosecution. He's entering the state prison system, where the murderer he helped put away for life is probably waiting for him.

And this murderer, John Lee Leonard Jr., has friends. Daniels, described by his lawyer as being uncommonly courageous fortestifying against a "walking time bomb," said he found out about Leonard's cronies while awaiting sentencing in a Prince George's Countyjail.

Daniels, 29, was sentenced yesterday to 15 years in prison for his role in the 1989 murder of a former Annapolis High School basketball star. The sentence handed down by county Circuit Judge Martin A. Wolff was the maximum allowed under a plea bargain between Daniels and prosecutors. "He has made a good deal for himself," Wolff said.

After twice coming to court only to back out of an agreement, Daniels pleaded guilty last July to second-degree murder and agreed to testifyagainst Leonard in return for the 15-year cap on his sentence. Also,prosecutors agreed to drop pending breaking-and-entering charges against Daniels and work to see that he does his time in a "protective environment" such as a federal institution or a prison in another state.

But Assistant State's Attorney Frederick M. Paone said yesterday Daniels would have to be placed in the Maryland prison system at least temporarily. He said that finding Daniels a spot in the federal system was a long-shot and that Daniels will likely be sent to anotherstate prison system.

Holding to his end of the bargain, Daniels testified during a trial in November that Leonard fired the shots thatkilled 21-year-old Reno T. Green on July 8, 1989 on a street in an Annapolis housing project. Daniels said yesterday a fight broke out when he tried to collect a drug debt from Green and that when Green gotthe upper hand in the altercation, Leonard shot the man.

"I pray you will not hold me responsible for another person's actions," Daniels told the judge yesterday. "I'm not a murderer, but I am partially responsible."

A jury convicted Leonard of first-degree felony murder and the 42-year-old Annapolis man was sentenced to life plus 25 years in prison with no chance for parole. Prosecutors had sought the death penalty for Leonard.

How to find a protective environment forDaniels was the principal topic of discussion at yesterday's court hearing. His lawyer, Roland Walker, said, "This defendant has come forward and he has done what few, if any, individuals would have the courage to do. . . . I think a tremendous amount of appreciation is due him."

Walker also argued that Daniels should not be held responsible for Leonard's acts and suggested a suspended sentence might be appropriate.

In rejecting that proposal, Wolff noted that sentencing guidelines, which considered a criminal record that included convictions for armed robbery and larceny, showed Daniels should be sentencedto 25 years to life.

The judge ordered state prison officials to take steps to protect Daniels from Leonard. Court records show prosecutor Paone wrote letters Monday to three state prison officials asking them to move Daniels into the federal system or into another state.

Paone wrote: "The reason for this is probably obvious, but in case it isn't, Mr. Daniels' life will be in danger so long as he is a prisoner within the Maryland correction system. Mr. Leonard is one of the meanest, most vicious criminals I have ever prosecuted in my 12 years with the State's Attorney's office. I have reason to believe he has a network of friends within the correctional system who also pose a significant threat to Mr. Daniels' safety."

Taking the witness stand in his sentencing hearing yesterday, Daniels told the judge, "It's a proven fact that Mr. Leonard is a very dangerous person and throughout his incarceration he has belonged to several different organizations, cliques, what have you. There's really, like, a threat on my life if placed in the Department of Corrections."

Daniels, who hasbeen behind bars since turning himself in in September 1990, awaitedsentencing at the Prince George's County Detention Center because Leonard was held at the Anne Arundel County Detention Center pending his sentencing.

Daniels said he was threatened in the Upper Marlborojail by two members of a "Moorish society" of which Leonard, a.k.a. John Leonard-Bey, a.k.a. Samad A. Taawab-Bey, is a member. Daniels said officials removed him from the jail's general population to ensurehis safety.

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