A bill to protect the innocent

January 25, 1993

If our justice system is supposed to be a shield as well as a sword, it certainly failed Daniel Heiser.

On Nov. 16, 1992, Mr. Heiser, a 48-year-old father of two sons, was killed at his Catonsville gas station in a shootout with convicted armed robber Theodore R. Bundley Jr.

That Bundley died, too, is overshadowed by the fact that he never should have been on the street in the first place. Just 10 days earlier, he was freed on $75,000 bail for another armed robbery. He should have been in jail, and, if a crime bill sponsored by state Delegates John Astle, D-Annapolis, and Phillip D. Bissett, R-Mayo, had been in place, he would have been.

Their bill is simple: Suspects arrested for violent crimes could not be freed on bail if they are on probation, parole or mandatory release for another violent crime, such as rape, robbery or murder.

The idea came from Mr. Heiser's brother-in-law, Rick Tabor, an Arnold resident and Anne Arundel County police sergeant. It is so obvious and sensible that we can't help but wonder why such a bill was not passed long ago.

The police tell us a large percentage of violent crimes are committed by repeat offenders. Knowing the risk, how can our justice system justify granting dangerous people the privilege of freedom before trial? Aren't citizens owed protection from suspects with a long history of violence, at least until their trials have ended?

A legion of outraged citizens is demanding the death penalty for killers. But it's time we realized many lives could be saved if the system were more careful about spotting dangerous criminals before they kill. Bundley is a good example.

He had a record of armed robberies and assaults dating to 1986.

In 1987, he pleaded guilty to armed robbery and was sentenced to 10 years for that, plus five years for assault with intent to murder. On Aug. 10, 1992, he pleaded guilty to assault with intent to disable a man. The following Sept. 22 he was arrested for holding up an athletics goods store in Edmondson Village.

When Bundley appeared before a Baltimore City court commissioner for a bail review Nov. 6, someone should have spotted him immediately as a tragedy waiting to happen. But no one did. They let him out. An innocent man paid with his life.

This bill would attempt to keep that from happening again.

It's legislation worth passing.

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