A convicted murderer who remained free for five years due to a court error has been given some credit for his years of freedom.
Judge Joseph F. Murphy Jr. rejected Lawrence William Carter's request for full credit yesterday in Baltimore County Circuit Court, but he said Carter, 42, should get an early parole hearing.
Carter was convicted of second-degree murder and a handgun charge in June 1983. Sentenced that September to 20 years in prison, he appealed the conviction and was freed on a property bond supplied by his family, an unusual circumstance in a murder case. In November 1984, the Court of Special Appeals upheld his conviction for killing Penny Rockwood.
Carter testified yesterday that he called his public defender several times and asked when he should surrender. The lawyer told him he would be notified. His mother and sister, worried about losing the homes they'd used for bail, called the court. They were told there was no record of Carter's case.
"I'm lost on what more I should have done," Carter said.
Judge Murphy agreed and said Carter "did everything that could be expected of him."
While he was free, Carter worked at several jobs and lived with his mother. Then, in November 1989, Penny Rockwood's brother, Richard I. Sanner, called the Department of Correction to find out if Carter would soon be eligible for parole. Officials told him Carter wasn't in prison.
This time, the state's reaction was swift. On Nov. 9, 1989, Carter was arrested outside his mother's house.
At yesterday's hearing, Bert Eichhorn, assistant attorney general for public safety and corrections, said a judge may recommend but not order an early parole hearing. However, the parole commission probably would give the judge's decision strong consideration, he said.
Normally, Carter could expect a parole hearing about a year from now, after serving one-fourth of his sentence.
Howard Cardin, Carter's lawyer, said, "It's a unique case, zTC therefore it calls for a unique decision." He also argued that not to give Carter credit for five years of model behavior amounts to "cruel and unusual punishment."
Carter testified that "If this hadn't happened, I'd have been on parole two years ago."
The shooting occurred when Penny and her husband, Keith Rockwood, went to Carter's home in Owings Mills late on Jan. 4, 1983. Carter's wife, Dottice, wanted the Rockwoods to leave because they were frightening the Carters' four-year-old son. The two women argued, then struggled. Their husbands were drawn into the fight. Carter ran to the bedroom, retrieved a .22-caliber pistol and fired twice. He disposed of the gun before police arrived.
At his trial, he said he thought the gun was a "starter pistol" that fired blanks.
After yesterday's hearing, Mr. Sanner said he was glad Carter's main request was denied. But, he added, "We don't have a lot of faith in the system."