Weathersbee's Weakness

March 21, 1994

Occasionally, we are left to wonder whether a case that came sealed in leak-proof Tupperware would be airtight enough for Anne Arundel County State's Attorney Frank Weathersbee.

Mr. Weathersbee faces a difficult fight for re-election this fall, which is largely his own fault. His history of non-aggressiveness makes him a perfect target for challengers who sense the public's thirst for get-tough justice. Inexplicably, he seems oblivious to this. One would think he would be trying to adopt a bolder persona, especially since Republican John Greiber, a tenacious bulldog of a candidate, started yapping at his heels. Instead, he keeps handing Mr. Greiber more ammunition.

Mr. Weathersbee recently dropped murder charges against the man suspected of killing Arnold nightclub owner Joanne Valentine, even though the gun that killed her was found in the trunk of the man's car. The case was not without flaws, but many in the law enforcement community wondered what Mr. Weathersbee had to lose by taking it to a jury. He also refused to pursue auto manslaughter charges against a man who confessed nine months after his truck hit and killed a pedestrian. Mr. Weathersbee said that without witnesses it is hard to know what happened.

Beyond these recent incidents is a pattern of over-cautiousness and questionable decisions. The state's attorney never disciplined one of his assistants who was charged with drunken driving. An individual charged with attempted murder went free when an assistant prosecutor failed to schedule the trial fast enough. Earlier this month, a woman who claims she was raped in 1979 by a former police officer filed a lawsuit claiming Mr. Weathersbee, then an assistant state's attorney, had concluded there wasn't enough evidence before he ever saw a police report on evidence taken from the woman's apartment.

Mr. Weathersbee says Mr. Greiber, who is the woman's lawyer, is using this case for publicity. He's right. Not every criticism being leveled against him is valid; he had good reasons recently for charging two college students who tormented a vagrant to death with manslaughter instead of murder. Still, if Mr. Weathersbee wants to win re-election, he would be wise to start taking action to reassure the public he is not soft on crime. The picture his opponent is painting is drying fast.

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