Man is jailed nine years after fatal accident

April 20, 1994|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,Sun Staff Writer

Almost 10 years after he killed a teen-ager while driving drunk, Clarence Andrew Plitt yesterday started serving a six-month sentence that a Baltimore County court clerk mistakenly entered as a probation order.

The Bethlehem Steel electrician, now 53, was convicted a year after the death but never served his term. Since then, he has worked, attended college and become active in Alcoholics Anonymous, said neighbors and co-workers who turned out to support him at a hearing yesterday.

In his work against alcoholism, one said, Plitt made at least three trips into Maryland prisons without any outstanding legal problems showing up in security clearances.

But after the brief hearing on a defense motion for sentence modification, Circuit Judge Barbara Kerr Howe said she wouldn't second-guess the trial judge who imposed the original sentence.

Plitt was convicted of homicide by motor vehicle in June 1985 in the death of Beverly Jewell, 15, who was struck as she crossed Martin Boulevard. The defendant lived near the accident scene, and registered a 0.22 blood alcohol level about two hours later. The legal standard for drunken driving is 0.10 percent.

On Aug. 27, 1985, Circuit Judge Leonard S. Jacobson, now retired, sentenced him to six months in jail on work release, to be followed by five years' probation.

But the judge allowed Plitt to remain free pending an appeal -- and Plitt mistakenly was sent to the probation office. He did so well that Judge Jacobson agreed in 1989 to end the probation early.

Meanwhile, the Court of Special Appeals had rejected his appeal in April 1986, but he never was ordered to surrender.

Chief Criminal Clerk Patricia Fisher reviewed Plitt's file last month to replace lost computer data and noticed he never served his term. He was arrested March 25 and jailed on a bench warrant.

Defense attorney David B. Shapiro asked Judge Howe to resentence Plitt to weekends in jail.

Deputy State's Attorney Sue A. Schenning agreed that the system made a mistake and that Plitt appears to be rehabilitated.

But, she argued, "The defendant still has to be punished in some fashion."

Judge Howe noted "a number of mistakes made in this case [beginning] when the probation form was filled out by the court clerk that probation was effective Aug. 27, 1985." That was legally impossible before the sentence was served, she noted.

With credit for the time he's been jailed since March, Plitt could be out before July, Mr. Shapiro said.

Mr. Shapiro said Plitt told him he was prepared to do the time.

"He's not bitter at all," Mr. Shapiro said. "He told me, 'If that's the judge's will, I'll abide by it.' "

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