Corner gunfire suspect was on pretrial release

February 08, 1994|By Jay Apperson and Joan Jacobson | Jay Apperson and Joan Jacobson,Sun Staff Writers Sun Staff writer Ed Heard contributed to this article.

A man arrested yesterday in the shooting of an 18-year-old East Baltimore woman Sunday had been behind bars until September -- when a judge struck down his $100,000 bail and ordered him released while awaiting trial on drug and weapons charges.

Vincent Abernathy was charged yesterday in the shooting of Jacqueline Holiday, who was holding her 2-year-old son when she was shot in the chest and face.

Mr. Abernathy, a 24-year-old former New Yorker awaiting trial on cocaine-distribution charges, had been held in jail from his arrest last May until Sept. 7. On that day, Baltimore Circuit Judge John N. Prevas went along with prosecutors who asked that the suspect be released until the trial.

Patricia C. Jessamy, a deputy state's attorney, said a city prosecutor was acting at the behest of Baltimore police and federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents.

"Our office did make the recommendation to the court based on the request, so we accept full responsibility for that," Ms. Jessamy said yesterday. She expressed "regret" that Ms. Holiday's critical injuries might have come at the hands of the suspect, but added: "I don't know if under the same set of facts and circumstances we'd do anything different."

She refused to discuss the factors that led police to ask that Mr. Abernathy be released. Police would not comment. Often, suspects receive such treatment when they have agreed to cooperate in investigations.

Mr. Abernathy was arrested May 19 after police raided an East Baltimore house and seized more than a pound of suspected cocaine, drug paraphernalia and ammunition, according to court records. Less than a month later, he was named in four indictments charging him with 18 counts of drug and weapons violations, including seven counts of conspiracy. His trial is scheduled for May 18.

A District Court judge set Mr. Abernathy's bail at $150,000, court records show. At a bail review hearing in July in Baltimore Circuit Court, Judge Roger W. Brown lowered the bail to $100,000.

On the day set for Mr. Abernathy's arraignment, Sharon Holback, a prosecutor in the Baltimore state's attorney's office's drug unit, asked Judge Prevas to allow Mr. Abernathy to be released under the supervision of the state Division of Pretrial Detention Services.

Court records show that Judge Prevas ordered the release. The judge did not respond to a request for comment yesterday. LaMont Flanagan, commissioner of the Baltimore City Detention Center and of pretrial services, said yesterday that the court acted without input from his agency. Mr. Flanagan called a news conference to say that pretrial officials had recommended the $100,000 bail and that, because of the charges against Mr. Abernathy, the agency would not have recommended him for pretrial supervision.

"This case is a clear example that if you don't utilize the assessment tools at your disposal . . . you might regret it later on," Mr. Flanagan said. He noted that Mr. Abernathy had complied with requirements that he check in with pretrial officials five times a week.

Randolph O. Gregory, Mr. Abernathy's attorney, said he wouldn't judge whether the release was premature. "Since he had no history of violent crime or history with handguns, we had the bail reassessed and it was finally lowered," she said.

Mr. Abernathy's record, which dates to 1991, lists several charges but no convictions -- a 1991 rogue and vagabond case was placed on the inactive docket; a case involving a 1992 arrest for a handgun violation and battery was dismissed; a case involving breaking and entering and battery charges in 1993 also placed on the inactive docket, according to pretrial officials.

Mr. Abernathy was charged yesterday with two counts of attempted murder and two counts of illegal handgun use in Sunday's shooting, authorities said.

Ms. Holiday, a McDonald's employee, was a bystander in a dispute near the corner of Milton Avenue and Biddle Street. She and her son had been on their way to a birthday party of a young relative. When the gunfire started, she picked up her son, Michael, and ran from a bus stop toward cover at a grocery store. But two bullets hit her before she reached the store.

Ms. Holiday, who was in critical condition after several hours of surgery Sunday night, was in good condition at Johns Hopkins Hospital yesterday.

Family members were still upset yesterday, and those who visited Ms. Holiday at the hospital said she had spoken for the first time since the shooting. "We're doing all right," said Linda Williams, her sister.

Members of the U.S. Marshal's Fugitive Task Force found the suspect asleep at 6:45 a.m. in his girlfriend's apartment in the 6600 block of Loch Raven Blvd. in Baltimore County, said U.S. Marshal Scott Sewell.

Mr. Abernathy was being held without bail at the city's Eastern District lockup yesterday.

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