Lawyer Guilty Of Assault For Biting Off Limo Driver's Fingertip

April 29, 1992|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff writer

Franklin I. Freeman, the Baltimore attorney accused of biting off the tip of a limousine driver's finger during a fight last year outsideBaltimore-Washington International Airport, was found guilty of assault and battery yesterday.

But Freeman was found not guilty on themore serious charge of assault with intent to maim when a judge ruled prosecutors failed to prove the 57-year-old lawyer intended to biteoff the end of limousine driver Stephen B. "Dr. Wheels" Walker's left pinky during the altercation.

Testifying yesterday in county Circuit Court, Walker sat with arms folded as he described his Aug. 25 encounter with Freeman. He then held his left hand up and said: "He literally bit my finger off. It'sa whole joint shorter.

"When he bit down on it,my reflex was to snatch it away, but he pretty much had it in his teeth," the 47-year-old Laurel man said. Prosecutor Patrick J. Bell, stifling a laugh, then directed his witness to "Continue on, please."

"I said, 'You're crazy. You bit my finger off,' " Walker said, adding later under cross-examination, "He just looked at me with this half-silly grin on hisface."

Asked by Bell where the fingertip is, Walker said, "It's in formaldehyde at home. I kept it as evidence. I thought it might be important, but this morning I forgot to bring the thing."

Walker'saccount was corroborated by another limousine driver and by Elizabeth Bulloch, a Cockeysville woman who happened upon the confrontation after flying home from Florida. She said she saw Freeman spit on Walker and she saw Walker then punch Freeman, apparently knocking him to the ground.

"As a mother, you can hear a head hit the floor. It's adistinctive sound," she said.

Taking the witness stand, Freeman traced that day's events to an airport in Norfolk, where he was preparing to fly back to Baltimore after a four-day working vacation. He noted that he had eaten peanuts at the airport and that he had been given another bag of peanuts on the plane.

Upon arrival at BWI, he began looking for a $5 shuttle bus to take him to downtown Baltimore when, he said, he was "accosted" by a limo driver trying to "hustle" him for a more expensive ride.

Walker suddenly issued a profane phrase that so shocked Freeman that it caused him to unintentionally spitout a mouthful of peanuts on Walker's cheek, Freeman testified.

Of Walker's subsequent punches to his face, Freeman said, "If it weren't for the whiskers on my face, he would've butchered my face from the force of the blows." He added that he was glad he had been sunburned while in Norfolk; had his facial skin not been toughened by the sun, he said, it would undoubtedly have split open.

The ensuing tussle occurred while he tried to effect a citizen's arrest on Walker, Freeman testified.

He denied intentionally biting off the end of Walker's pinky, explaining: "As I fell down on my knee my mouth closed and his hand had been about my mouth. I opened my mouth and the tip of his finger fell out."

After hearing the evidence, Judge Lawrence H. Rushworth said, "The court finds if difficult to believe in any fashion Mr. Freeman was not the aggressor." He set sentencing for June 11, exactly one month after Walker is scheduled to be tried on an assault complaint filed by Freeman.

Bell said he does not expect Freeman to receive any jail time for the offense. A civil suit between thetwo combatants, in which Freeman is demanding 2 cents in punitive damages, is also pending.

After the judge announced his verdict, a disappointed Freeman said, "I expected a complete exoneration."

Freeman, a member of the Maryland bar for 34 years, said he did not expect the conviction to affect his standing to practice law.

Walker said: "I didn't want to see (the judge) hang the guy. I don't want to see him stop working, I guess. But maybe that'll teach him a lesson."

He said the stresses connected with the legal cases have been a nuisance, adding: "Other than that, this damn hand aches like hell sometimes. Other than those two things, life is about the same, I guess."

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