Charmed convict who wins on appeal gets 17 1/2 years that may stick

December 10, 1992|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer

Has Walter Louis Ingram's luck finally run out?

Ingram, 41, of Woodlawn, was sentenced to 17 1/2 years in prison without parole yesterday for conspiring to distribute cocaine.

But he's been in that position before, only to walk out of prison months later when his convictions were overturned.

In 1987, Ingram was convicted on drug conspiracy charges and sentenced to a 20-year jail term. That was overturned on a technicality by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.

Twelve years earlier, his 40-year sentence in armed robbery and manslaughter convictions was reversed by the same court. And, three armed robbery convictions against him have been thrown out on appeal.

He also has beaten two murder raps and an assault charge.

"Mr. Ingram has been a very fortunate person in terms of appeals," U.S. Judge J. Frederick Motz remarked before imposing sentence yesterday.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea L. Smith believes things will be different for Ingram this time.

"He's in federal court now," said Ms. Smith, who gained the 1987 conviction against Ingram when she was a city prosecutor. She had been frustrated by the reversal.

"Justice was done," she said about yesterday's sentence. "Justice was done."

Ingram was convicted Sept. 22 by a federal jury. He had been the target of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency investigation that recorded 45,000 telephone conversations by him and alleged co-conspirators.

Judge Motz imposed the 17 1/2 -year sentence after finding that Ingram was part of a conspiracy to distribute at least five kilograms of cocaine.

Defense attorney William B. Purpura, disagreed with that finding, saying that evidence showed that Ingram was responsible for distributing less than two kilograms of heroin. He also said his client worked independently in the drug trade and was not part of a conspiracy.

"What he was doing, at best, was running from one person he knows has cocaine to another person he knows has cocaine and trying to put a deal together as a middleman," Mr. Purpura said.

Before he sentenced Ingram, Judge Motz said he needed to levy a stiffer sentence than the 10-year minimum. He said that with Ingram's success in having jury verdicts overturned, his official criminal record "seriously understates the severity of his criminal background."

The judge, however, denied Ms. Smith's request for a 30-year sentence under the guidelines for career offenders. Federal authorities describe Ingram as a long-time drug organization enforcer whose criminal career began in 1965.

The prosecutor said Ingram was subject to the longer term, but technically had just missed qualifying as a career offender. She said he had ongoing criminal activities and should receive the stiffer penalty.

Under federal rules, a person is a career offender if there are two previous convictions for violent crimes, or two previous convictions for drug sales, or one of each. The third offense -- the one that makes the person a career criminal -- must occur within 15 years after the sentence for the first conviction has been completed.

Ingram was convicted of assaults in 1972 and 1985. However, he was released from prison on Aug. 19, 1976, on the earlier assault conviction and was indicted in the current case for drug activity beginning Sept. 1, 1991 -- 12 days after the 15-year period had elapsed.

Judge Motz said the strict guidelines prevented him from ruling that Ingram was a career offender.

In addition to the victories in the Maryland appellate court, Ingram was acquitted in New York on charges of killing a cocaine dealer in 1984.

Also, drug conspiracy charges brought against him in 1981 were dropped when a city Circuit Court judge dismissed the testimony of an informant. The judge ruled that the testimony was insufficient to find a drug conspiracy. The ruling damaged a VTC case against Ingram for the alleged slaying of a drug dealer; the murder charge was dropped.

And, a city Circuit Court jury acquitted Ingram in June 1986 in an assault case in which two people were repeatedly stabbed with scissors after a dispute over cocaine. Both victims fingered Ingram as one of their attackers, but his co-defendant pleaded guilty and testified that Ingram was not involved in the assault.

Prosecutors say Ingram was an enforcer for drug dealer Kenny A. "Bird" Jackson, who also was acquitted in the 1984 New York murder.

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