Man who made burglary a career gets life sentence

December 15, 1992|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Staff Writer

Since the 1960s, when he was just a teen-ager, William Edward Hughes has been caught and convicted of burglary and daytime housebreaking 18 times. Like a family photo album, his prison mug shots show the gradual change from fuzz-faced teen-ager to middle-aged man.

"He was truly a career criminal, more so than anybody I've ever seen," said James Gentry, an assistant state's attorney in Baltimore County for nine years.

Yesterday in Baltimore County Circuit Court, Hughes, 42, paid for his life of crime. Judge Thomas Bollinger sentenced Hughes to life in prison without possibility of parole under the state's career criminal law.

"This is one of the longest records I've seen in 22 years as a prosecutor, defense attorney and judge," Judge Bollinger said.

When given a chance to speak on his own behalf, Hughes declined.

His lawyer, John Henderson, said Hughes has cancer and has tested positive for the virus that causes AIDS. Mr. Henderson also said Hughes' current 28-year sentence for other burglary convictions is "probably a death sentence, because he will probably never get out of prison."

Even if Hughes has cancer and could eventually suffer an AIDS-related disease, Judge Bollinger said there was little he could do to lessen the sentence. Maryland's career criminal law mandates that a four-time loser be sentenced to life without parole, Mr. Gentry said.

The judge "had no choice," Mr. Gentry said.

Judge Bollinger suggested Hughes might apply for clemency from the governor.

In August 1991, Hughes was arrested at a U.S. 40 motel in Baltimore County on a warrant from Cecil County. The charge was burglary. He was taken to Cecil County, where police searched him and found some jewelry that had been stolen from a Lutherville home, said Detective Richard Walton.

After his arrest, police discovered Hughes was wanted for 22 other burglaries or daytime housebreakings in several other Maryland counties and in Fairfax County, Va.

"This guy, everybody wants him," Detective Walton said. "He's like the bone between all these dogs."

Last month, prosecutors in Fairfax County withdrew burglary charges against Hughes, when they learned he could be returned to Maryland and sentenced to life in prison, Mr. Gentry said. Even though this was Hughes' first burglary conviction in Baltimore County, the county has a policy of seeking the life-without-parole sentence against eligible defendants.

"Looking at his career, there's probably hundreds of unsolved burglaries out there, because you don't get caught every time," Mr. Gentry said. "This guy had more convictions than anybody I've ever seen. . . . He was a one-man crime wave."

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