Judge corrects McAlister's sentence

February 06, 1993|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff Writer

Howard Circuit Judge James Dudley ordered a Baltimore peace activist to serve 60 days in jail yesterday, correcting a six-month sentence he mistakenly gave the woman two weeks ago.

Judge Dudley issued the new sentence after a peaceful protest outside the County Courthouse by the Baltimore Emergency Response Network in support of the activist, Elizabeth McAlister.

Ms. McAlister, a 53-year-old former nun and wife of activist Phillip F. Berrigan, was given the prison term after her conviction on trespassing for a December 1991 protest at the Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory in Columbia.

Judge Dudley originally sentenced Ms. McAlister on Jan. 21, ordering her to serve six months in jail -- double the maximum permitted penalty for the trespassing charge.

"The error was completely mine," Judge Dudley said at yesterday's hearing.

The judge explained that he originally sentenced Ms. McAlister under the section of the law that covers trespassing in public areas and permits prison terms of up to six months.

However, Ms. McAlister was convicted for trespassing on private property, a crime that carries a maximum sentence of up to three months in jail, Judge Dudley said.

"He had to correct this error," said Ms. McAlister, a member of the response network, after the hearing. "It was double the legal sentence."

Ms. McAlister is to start serving the 60-day term Feb. 12.

The defendant's attorney, C. William Michaels of Baltimore, argued in court papers for a lenient sentence. He noted that a presentence evaluation for Ms. McAlister recommended that she receive probation.

"Even the maximum sentence allowed by [the law] -- three months'imprisonment -- would be grossly disproportionate to the nature of the offense," Mr. Michaels said.

Mr. Michaels added that the seven people arrested with Ms. McAlister after the laboratory protest received sentences ranging from probation to 24 days in jail.

The activists climbed atop a building and water tower at the Columbia laboratory Dec. 5, 1991, to protest the lab's weapons research and development. They carried banners and said prayers.

Before issuing the new sentence, Judge Dudley denied a request by Mr. Michaels that he remove himself from Ms. McAlister's case. The defense attorney said in court papers that the judge's comments during the defendant's first sentencing hearing has made him impartial.

Judge Dudley called Ms. McAlister "incorrigible" at the January hearing. He said he agreed with the defendant's concerns but advised her to voice protests through advertisements and letters to newspapers.

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