Judge irked by case of drug-using parolee WEST COUNTY -- Crofton * Odenton * Fort Meade * Gambrills

April 20, 1993|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Staff Writer

An Anne Arundel Circuit judge yesterday blasted the way federal officials supervised a bank robber, paroled three years ago, who remained free despite repeated positive drug tests and then committed three armed robberies.

Thomas Jeffrey Kirsch was sentenced to 10 years in state prison yesterday for robbing three Annapolis motel clerks at knifepoint in 1992. At the time, he was on parole and under the supervision of the U.S. Probation Office in Baltimore.

"Federal probation's handling of this case was a joke," Judge Raymond G. Thieme said yesterday before sentencing.

Kirsch, a 31-year-old father of two from Gambrills, pleaded guilty March 1 to three counts of armed robbery for holding up the motels during a six-hour period in January 1992.

Judge Thieme said after the sentencing that he couldn't understand why Kirsch wasn't pulled off the streets sooner, given the 14 positive drug test results he submitted to federal authorities in a six-month stretch before the robberies.

"If this kid wasn't on drugs, none of this would have happened," Judge Thieme said. "And here he is making these admissions to these federal probation people and nothing is done about it. . . . We're lucky no one was killed here."

David Johnson, chief U.S. probation officer for Maryland, said Kirsch was in a drug treatment program while on parole, had a family to support and was working as a welder, so "we tried to do our best to keep him in the community.

"It is highly unusual for somebody to be given that many chances before we pull them in," Mr. Johnson said. There is no set number of positive urine drug tests required for a parolee to be returned to prison, he said, but it is "really a judgment call" by his office.

Kirsch was convicted of robbing the Holiday Inn at Annapolis of about $400 at about 10 p.m. Jan. 19; robbing the nearby Thrift Inn of $247 about four hours later; and taking $300 from a clerk at the Ramada Inn two hours after that.

In each case, Kirsch brandished a folding buck knife and demanded cash, according to charging documents.

Assistant State's Attorney Cynthia Ferris said Kirsch was apprehended shortly after the Ramada Inn robbery when a security guard and police officers chased him to a neighboring property and cornered him with the help of police dogs.

He had been paroled by federal officials in June 1990 after serving four years of a seven-year sentence imposed Oct. 22, 1986, for a Hanover, Pa., bank robbery, said his attorney, Assistant Public Defender Paul Hazelhurst.

Mr. Hazelhurst said Kirsch's drug habit was so "ravenous" that at one point, needing cocaine, he sold for $43 the $1,500 car his father had given him.

He tested positive for cocaine use 12 times and for codeine or morphine use two times between June 25, 1991, and his arrest six months later, according to court records.

"My client fully accepts responsibility for his actions, but maybe if federal officials had done their jobs and pulled him off the streets, none of this would've happened," Mr. Hazelhurst said.

At least one of Kirsch's victims doesn't blame federal officials for allowing Kirsch to stay free so long.

"That just seems to be the way it happens nowadays," said Charles Edward Cage, the Holiday Inn clerk. "You just got to have faith that things will work out in the end and get better."

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