Error freed parolee before he killed Bail granted 10 days before holdup

November 24, 1992|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,Staff Writer

If Maryland's criminal justice system had kept up with him, Theodore Richard Bundley Jr. would have still been in jail eight days ago, instead of shooting it out with a Catonsville gas station owner in a robbery attempt that left both men dead.

A study of police, court, parole and probation records shows that a Baltimore City court commissioner released Bundley on bail on an armed robbery charge Nov. 6. At the time, two city judges had issued warrants charging him with violation of probation on 1987 convictions of armed robbery and assault with intent to murder.

That should have been enough to keep Bundley in jail. But city police said the notice of those outstanding warrants never showed up on their computers.

Ten days later, Bundley attempted to hold up a Sunoco station on Baltimore National Pike near Rolling Road. In the ensuing shootout, he and station owner Daniel Leighton Heiser, 47, fatally wounded each other. The 23-year-old Bundley lay dead at the scene, while Mr. Heiser, of the 3100 block of Sunset Lane in Phoenix, died at St. Agnes Hospital an hour after the 8:30 p.m. failed robbery.

The city court system and his parole agent had been trying to catch up with Bundley.

For five years, he was a successful, although not perfect, prisoner and parolee after his 1987 convictions.

But on Aug. 10, he pleaded guilty in Baltimore County Circuit Court to a charge of assault with intent to disable a man. He received two years' probation after the alleged victim denied that Bundley had attacked him.

That conviction triggered the two warrants for violation of probation in the 1987 cases. They were issued on Sept. 16 and Oct. 1, according to Leonard A. Sipes Jr., a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

On Sept. 22, Baltimore police arrested Bundley and charged him with armed robbery, theft and gun violations in connection with a holdup at the Athlete's Foot in the 4400 block of Edmondson Ave., Edmondson Village.

City police and parole and probation department records disagree on what happened next.

City police records show that Bundley was released at 1 a.m. the next day, Sept. 23, according to Agent Doug Price, a city police spokesman. In that case, there should have been at least one warrant outstanding against Bundley.

"I have no information that we had any information that he was wanted," Agent Price said, "and I certainly would want to know." But Agent Price said the parole and probation department's records are more reliable than the city's.

Parole and probation records show that Bundley was held until Nov. 6, when his parents offered their West Baltimore house as surety for $75,000 bail, Mr. Sipes said. By that time, there were two warrants outstanding against him.

And on Nov. 10, his parole agent obtained yet a third arrest warrant, this time from the parole commission, after trying three times to notify Bundley that he was scheduled to appear for a parole revocation hearing.

The system never got ahold of Bundley again. Six days later, he and Mr. Heiser were dead.

"Theodore Bundley was a very unusual case. He played the game very well," Mr. Sipes said.

Bundley had been paroled from his original armed robbery convictions on Nov. 5, 1990 -- a little earlier than normal, according to Mr. Sipes.

"He reported as required, he worked with the family construction business. . . . And a job is a very important factor: Most people have a very poor job history and very poor job prospects, but it's one of the most important correlates [for a parolee's success], a steady work history and being able to come home to employment," Mr. Sipes said.

He also successfully completed a drug program in 1991.

But he hadn't been a completely model parolee: there was a June 1991 charge of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, and a June 1991 charge of possession of cocaine. But the first charge was dropped, and he was found not guilty of the second.

Even the Baltimore County conviction that triggered the flurry of warrants was unusual, Assistant State's Attorney Stephen Bailey recalled. The victim not only wrote a letter denying that Bundley and another man had beaten, shot at and robbed him, but also turned up as a prospective witness for the defense.

Bundley had faced 10 charges, including attempted murder, for allegedly attacking a man he and a companion had picked up in his father's company truck Feb. 8, 1992, near Edmondson Village. Bundley was accused of taking the man to a company job site on Oella Avenue, where he and the companion allegedly robbed him of about $50, according to the court file.

There were witnesses -- one heard at least two shots, while another got the truck's tag number and saw the man being beaten.

But there was a mix-up in the witnesses' photographic identification, and the prosecutor said he felt lucky to get a single Alford plea, a device that allows a defendant to plead guilty while insisting on his innocence.

Bundley received a five-year suspended sentence and two years of probation from Judge Alfred L. Brennan Sr.

"On paper, the case looked good," Mr. Bailey recalled. But "with the witness' statement recanting, I really anticipated having to dismiss that case altogether. . . . I think it's tragic that he was on the street."

Said Mr. Sipes: "This [case] demonstrates the way a very complicated and overburdened system works."

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