Request to erase conviction denied

January 21, 1994|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff Writer

A Carroll County circuit judge denied yesterday Dennis Keith Williams' request to have his automobile manslaughter conviction -- for which Williams is serving no prison time -- removed to clear his criminal record.

"I was somewhat surprised this case came back on a motion to modify" Williams' sentence, Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. said as he denied the request for probation before judgment.

"I don't think it was fair to the family of the victim to have to revisit this case," the judge said. "I was shocked this came back" to court.

Family members of the victim -- Matthew Patrick Connelly, a 24-year-old father of two who was killed instantly in the September 1992 crash -- filled more than two rows of the courtroom yesterday. Some of them sobbed quietly during the half-hour hearing.

Williams, a Western Maryland College athlete, did not speak during the hearing. His request was filed last summer.

In April, Judge Burns ordered Williams to spend the next three years talking to groups of Carroll County students about the dangers of reckless driving.

The judge also suspended a three-year prison sentence and imposed five years of probation.

The Connelly family, including Mr. Connelly's mother, had pleaded with Judge Burns to spare Williams from prison.

Judge Burns said yesterday that in light of the sentence he handed down, Williams' attempt to further reduce it insulted the Connelly family.

"I've never done [a sentence] like that before," the judge said. "The family should not have to go through this again."

Williams was speeding on Route 97 between Gettysburg and Western Maryland College, in Westminster, on the morning of Sept. 28, 1992, when his car failed to negotiate a curve near Humbert Schoolhouse Road at almost 90 mph and struck the car driven by Mr. Connelly.

The impact killed Mr. Connelly and sent Williams to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center for nearly a month.

Williams, who played on Western Maryland College's football and baseball teams, lost part of a leg.

He wasn't told of Mr. Connelly's death until he was released from the Shock Trauma Center.

At an emotion-filled hearing in April, Williams pleaded guilty to automobile manslaughter.

The judge cleared the courtroom after the hearing and allowed members of the Connelly family to meet with Williams for about 30 minutes.

Deputy State's Attorney Edward M. Ulsch, who argued against the sentence modification, said yesterday that Judge Burns' April sentencing decision should remain unchanged.

"This sentence struck a perfect balance between the mercy and justice we all strive for in cases like this," Mr. Ulsch told Judge Burns. "You really achieved perfection with this sentence. It really achieved balance."

Williams' attorney, Don Benter, said yesterday that his client wanted to clear his record to help him get on with his life.

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