Bathroom episode was an exercise in gross stupidity

MICHAEL OLESKER

January 20, 1993|By MICHAEL OLESKER

In the bathroom of Judge John Prevas' chambers, directly over the toilet, is an old political campaign sign reading: ''Keep the Sitting Judges. Brown. Heller. Prevas.''

The convicted killer Dontay Carter might have missed the little ''sitting'' joke Monday afternoon, in his rush to flee the premises, but he didn't miss the opportunity given him by the colossal stupidity of those whose job it was to watch him.

''I gotta go,'' Carter said, but nobody imagined precisely how far he intended. Nor did they apparently imagine, for a single TC moment, how easy it would be for a 19-year-old kid, wearing neither handcuffs nor leg irons and already facing the prospect of life in prison, to take his leave.

During a break in Carter's latest trial -- this one, for the kidnapping of Dr. Daniel Ford, a Johns Hopkins physician -- Judge Prevas was sentencing a woman for violating probation when he was asked, ''Is it permissible to take the defendant to the bathroom?''

Prevas nodded OK, and two armed security guards took Carter to the bathroom. He'd been there before, but the practice always required leaving the big oak bathroom door open. This time, Carter snatched it away from guard Frank Beales in what seemed a gesture of modesty and locked the door behind him.

Inside, he saw a bathroom that included file cabinets along one wall and, directly across from them, bags with evidence from an old, painful trial: clothing worn by Vitalis Pilius, the 37-year-old father of four young children when he was brutally murdered a year ago by Dontay Carter.

Carter had to step over the clothing to get out. Turning to his right, he had to clamber up a four-foot high ledge, using either a sink or wooden table to boost himself. Then, standing atop the ledge and brushing past Pilius' old clothes, he could look out a window, about four feet wide, and look right onto St. Paul Place.

To exit, he had to lift the window -- ''No big deal,'' Judge Prevas said yesterday. ''If he couldn't open it, he could have just smashed it open'' -- and then leap across a deep cement ravine maybe 5 feet wide, to a narrow ledge or the sidewalk just beyond it, perhaps 7 feet down from the window.

While all this was happening, Officer Beales, a 13-year veteran of the Baltimore City Detention Center, stood outside the bathroom door. A law clerk, Rachel Marblestone, peeking her head around the corner of Judge Prevas' L-shaped office, said, ''He could be escaping.''

''Don't say things like that,'' Beales said. ''I got a family to feed.''

He thought about it for a moment, then called into the bathroom, ''Dontay, what are you doing?''

''Taking a --, leave me alone,'' said Carter.

But, a moment later, he was out the window and racing across St. Paul Place. And, inside Judge Prevas' chambers and all over this city troubled by Dontay Carter and plagued by the predators like him, all hell was breaking loose.

Even in a city averaging roughly a homicide a day now, the cold-bloodedness of Carter's crimes chills us. He is the hood we see in our nightmares: out of his head with rage, callous, ignoring all pleas for mercy.

And a picture comes back: Not of Carter, but of Jeffrey Levitt, the rotund, blubbery savings and loan crook. Levitt was taken to and from court each day in handcuffs and leg irons. Dontay Carter had his limbs free. Levitt couldn't have fit through a window, much less dared to jump through one. Carter was a natural threat to leave, and yet he was not shackled.

''It's inexcusable that he wasn't,'' Judge Prevas said yesterday.

Outside the court, photographers focused their lenses on the spot where Carter jumped, and police milled about. From her desk, a secretary called to the judge, ''I can't write this memo for all the interruptions.''

All day, she told Prevas, reporters kept telephoning, kept banging on the door. Prevas shook his head sadly. In moments, he would have to go back into the courtroom, where the latest Carter jury had not yet been told of his escape.

They seemed like innocent children out there, officially unaware of the turn of events, knowing only that Carter was not in the room.

By last night, police found Carter hiding under the covers in a bedroom apartment in Northeast Baltimore, pleading with them that he had no weapon and not to shoot.

It's nice that they caught him. It's incredible that he got away in the first place.

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