Suspects in drug sweep consider plea deal offers

April 25, 1994|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Scott Higham contributed to this article.

The prosecutor in arraignment court was calling out the names of those charged but not yet apprehended in the Operation Midway drug bust. That's when Donald Leroy Callen surprised everyone by piping up, "I'm here."

Rising from his seat in the second row of the spectator's gallery, Mr. Callen waved his court summons. He said it had been delivered three weeks ago to his home on Pennsylvania Avenue -- where he said he'd been since the March 19 drug sweep, where police said they repeatedly went looking for him without success.

Then, another surprise: Prosecutors learned Mr. Callen is a paroled murderer.

More than three decades ago he was sentenced to life in prison after a 70-year-old man he robbed died of heart failure. Mr. Callen, now 55, was paroled in 1984.

Of the 21 Operation Midway defendants scheduled for arraignment last week, Mr. Callen was the only one to provide much in the way of drama. Only one defendant, Gregory Commodore, was actually arraigned; he was the only one with a private attorney.

As for the rest, their arraignments were postponed to allow public defenders a chance to review the cases before advising their clients on whether to take the offered plea bargains or go to trial.

Prosecutors are offering plea bargains that call for jail terms ranging from two years for the least serious offenders to 10 years without parole for those with a prior felony drug conviction and 25 years without parole for the few with at least two prior convictions. None of the offers is for probation.

"Everybody gets time," said Jill Myers, a narcotics prosecutor in the city state's attorney's office. "That's because this is a violent area, and these are violent offenders who happen to be arrested on drug charges."

On March 19, more than 100 police officers swept through the drug-ridden Barclay and East Baltimore Midway neighborhoods. In the raid and the days after, 28 of the 42 adults indicted before the raid were arrested. Police said at least two more suspects were behind bars on other charges.

Authorities originally reported that 43 individuals were indicted, but one man apparently was charged under two names.

Bails as high as $2 million were set for those suspects. Of that group, only two have been released on bail, records show.

At a bail review hearing in March, one suspect, Johnnie Wallace, a 54-year-old heroin addict, was ordered held in lieu of $350,000 bail. He had to be helped from a courtroom bench after the hearing.

Records show Mr. Wallace's case has since been "abated by death." He died April 5 of natural causes at the University of Maryland Medical Center, said Barbara Cooper, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore City Detention Center.

During the drug raid, more than 20 others who had not been indicted were arrested on drug or weapons charges. Since then, 10 of those suspects have been indicted on felony drug charges. Half of those suspects remain jailed in lieu of bail.

Several other cases were dismissed or placed on the inactive docket in District Court.

In the case of Mr. Callen, the paroled murderer, prosecutors obtained an indictment in mid-March charging him with selling cocaine to an undercover officer on Feb. 5 at the corner of Greenmount Avenue and 20th Street. Prosecutors, who obtained "pre-set" bail of $10,000 for Mr. Callen, were unaware of his record.

Salvatore Fili, a narcotics prosecutor, explained the oversight by pointing out that Mr. Callen apparently had not been arrested since the records were computerized, and prosecutors assumed had a clean background and did not dig through the older, paper records.

Mr. Callen remained a fugitive until he appeared in Circuit Court Thursday, where Judge Andre M. Davis initially said the suspect should get some credit for voluntarily coming to court. That's when everyone learned of Mr. Callen's murder conviction.

A prosecutor said that Mr. Callen's lawyer at the arraignment mentioned his client's record.

From there, Mr. Callen's fortunes declined rapidly. Later Thursday, a District Court commissioner set his bail at $25,000.

Prosecutors who had been willing to allow him to plead guilty in exchange for a two-year sentence were now demanding a 10-year sentence. They cited his record, which also includes charges that he walked away from work-release details at least twice while serving his sentence for murder.

Finally, during the bail review Friday, Judge Davis increased Mr. Callen's bail to $100,000.

Before he was led away in handcuffs, Mr. Callen told the judge, "You know in your heart you're committing an injustice."

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