Car-jack defenses: barbed wire and iron law Schaefer wants 15-year terms, and death penalty if warranted

September 15, 1992|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,Staff Writer

Spurred by a recent spate of violent automobile thefts, Gov. William Donald Schaefer yesterday proposed introducing legislation that would make car-jacking a felony carrying a minimum mandatory sentence of 15 years in prison.

Mr. Schaefer also said he favored the death penalty in car-jacking cases in which a victim is killed.

The governor said the impetus for his proposal was the death of Pamela Basu, a 34-year-old Howard County woman. She was dragged nearly two miles Sept. 8 dangling from the door of her BMW after two abductors sped away with her 22-month-old daughter still inside.

"Car-jacking is nothing new, but it took the death of Ms. Basu to really bring it to the attention of everyone," Mr. Schaefer said.

"We've had two deaths in the last week due to car-jacking, and we must do something. We must do something right away," he said at a press conference, flanked by Public Secretary Bishop L. Robinson and Col. Larry W. Tolliver, the acting Maryland State Police superintendent.

The second death to which the governor referred occurred Saturday night in Prince George's County when an off-duty FBI agent shot and killed one of at least two men who attempted to steal his car at gunpoint.

To bolster the call for a tougher law specific to car-jacking, Colonel Tolliver cited reports of more than 300 car-jackings in Maryland and Washington this year.

In addition proposing the legislation, Mr. Schaefer suggested that the state might create a statewide Violent Crime Strike Force.

He asked Mr. Robinson to meet with police chiefs around the state todiscuss the strike force, which could be a multi-jurisdictional effort or limited to state police troopers, depending on the outcome of the meetings, he said.

The governor went on to say that he would be willing to fund some of the 147 vacancies in the state police to help man the strike force, if Mr. Robinson determines it would help clamp down on violent crime.

But Mr. Schaefer would not disclose where he would get the money for the additional troopers, saying only, "I have a source." The cash-poor state is now trying to deal with a budget deficit of $500 million for the current fiscal year and is considering layoffs.

Decrying "turf battles" between police agencies, the governor called on local police departments to cooperate with the state police in sharing information on car-jackings and trying to coordinate efforts in solving and deterring them.

Mr. Schaefer also said that within the next two weeks the state would be kicking off a anti-crime public service campaign using television ads and issuing a pamphlet, modeled on a Department of Justice booklet, containing crime-prevention tips.

He also said he would throw his support behind a bill introduced in Congress by Rep. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., that would make armed car-jacking a federal crime.

Mr. Robinson said he would like to see the governor's proposed legislation include a provision for no parole, if a person is convicted of car-jacking.

"This is a very serious, horrifying crime," Mr. Robinson said.

The public safety secretary also said he would back a change in the law to include car-jacking as an "aggravating" factor in Maryland's death-penalty statute. That would allow prosecutors to ask for the death penalty if a victim of the theft is killed.

In addition, Mr. Robinson said, he would like the legislation to include a provision to make the 15-year car-jacking sentence consecutive to any other sentence given an offender stemming from an car-jacking incident.

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