Lawyer sheds light on the bright side of a fistfight

DAN RODRICKS

August 21, 1993|By DAN RODRICKS

The highlight of yesterday's visit to the District Court of Baltimore came when a defense attorney, grasping for a socially redeeming message in his client's socially off-putting behavior, looked to the bright side of a fistfight.

So we owe a small debt to Steven Wyman, attorney at law, for a perspective we might have otherwise missed.

Wyman appeared in the big courthouse on Wabash Avenue to represent a young fellow named Knott. This Knott, 18 years old and sporting a hairstyle I call postmodern Prince Valiant, had been involved in an old-fashioned, bareknuckled fistfight following a wedding reception. The fight occurred in the 1000 block of W. 36th St. early May 30.

Knott, employed in the heating-and-air duct profession, threw several punches at a guy with a ponytail and caused approximately $637 worth of damage to a pickup truck before he was finally restrained and arrested by police.

"Isn't it refreshing, your honor?" Wyman appealed to Judge Carol Smith.

Refreshing?

"No guns," Wyman pointed out. "A real fight, like when we were kids."

And nobody dead.

The lack of firearms was offered as a mitigating factor, as if it were -- and it might very well be -- the exception to the rule in street crimes these days. Wyman was saying we should praise -- or, at least, go easy on -- young men who resist settling their differences with guns and, therefore, decrease the risk of homicide.

Mildly amused, perhaps even thankful for the fresh perspective, Smith gave Wyman's client probation before judgment and ordered him to pay restitution.

Wyman's jest actually carried some punch. The handgun is everywhere today, like some common fashion accessory.

Consider the 21-year-old short-order cook who appeared in another courtroom, before Judge Mary Ellen T. Rinehardt.

He wore a black leather safari vest, the long and baggy denim shorts that are considered street smart for today's young urban male, and a black T-shirt bearing the face of Mike Tyson over block letters that declare: "I'LL BE BACK." He wore a wide, flat gold necklace with a large hasp for a clip. He sported ornate, gold-trimmed eyeglasses whose designer, it can be assumed, never believed that stuff about less being more.

So extravagantly fashion-conscious was this young defendant that, back on July 20, he decided what his ensemble really needed was a Glock.

That's a 9 mm semiautomatic pistol, the kind the cops use. Our young defendant bought one and stuck it in his pants. He put 15 bullets in his pocket. The cop who arrested him found another 35 bullets in the box the Glock came in. The fellow told the cop he had a gun permit when all he really had was an application for one. That got him a court date.

Rinehardt suspended a nine-month jail term, put the young man on probation and ordered forfeiture of the gun. As he left the courtroom, you wondered how long it would be before he had another one. And if he'd get to use it before another judge got to take it away.

There was another gun case, this one before Judge Smith.

The defendant, dressed in baggy shorts and a dark polo shirt, was named Daemun. He had Leslie Stein, a veteran trial attorney, at his side.

The prosecutor read a statement of facts, and she read it blandly, as if this was the sort of case that tumbled regularly out of the nights in the city.

At 10 minutes till 2 in the morning, July 18, a cop stopped this Daemun outside Union Memorial Hospital. The cop was investigating a shooting from a half-hour earlier in East Baltimore. Did Daemun know anything about it?

He pointed to a red Subaru and said someone had shot at the car while he and his two buddies were riding through the east side. He had driven his wounded buddies to the hospital. Daemun showed the cop a couple of bullet holes in the car. The cop saw a handgun on the rear floor.

It turned out to be a .38-caliber revolver with four spent rounds. The cop arrested Daemun.

His lawyer argued there was no clear connection between Daemun and the gun. The judge was convinced otherwise.

The lawyer asked for probation as a sentence. The judge called that ridiculous. "Probation sends entirely the wrong message to him and to others who think [having guns] is impressive," Smith said.

Then, at the moment when you wanted to grab this Daemun and scream at him to get a life, just when you wanted to reach out and pull him off the path he apparently has started to take, Smith sentenced him to 18 months in jail. She suspended the sentence, placed him on probation for two years, and made a condition of his probation graduation from Lake Clifton High School.

That, in effect, extended Daemun's probation to four years. He is, after all, just entering the ninth grade.

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