Prosecutor defends plea bargain

October 21, 1994|By Sheridan Lyons and Glenn Small | Sheridan Lyons and Glenn Small,Sun Staff Writers

With criticism mounting against her office, Baltimore County State's Attorney Sandra A. O'Connor yesterday defended a manslaughter plea bargain with a Parkton trucker who received an 18-month work-release sentence for shooting his unfaithful wife with a hunting rifle.

"We made an informed and experienced decision of what would be the likely result had the case proceeded to trial," Ms. O'Connor said at a news conference in Towson.

She agreed with a defense lawyer's interpretation of Maryland ,, law which holds that finding a spouse in a compromising situation is provocation adequate enough to reduce a charge of murder to voluntary manslaughter.

Asked whether that law has a male bias, she said it is "hundreds of years old" and probably has historically applied more to male defendants than to women. "The question is whether the legislature wants to change it," she said.

The case, which has drawn national attention, involved Kenneth Lee Peacock, 36, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter for shooting his 31-year-old wife, Sandra, last February after he drove through an ice storm to their home in Parkton and found her in in bed with another man.

Ms. O'Connor labeled as absurd widespread speculation that Peacock got a good plea-bargain because two of his brothers are Baltimore County police officers.

But some lawyers found the plea bargain hard to understand. They said Mrs. O'Connor's office has a reputation for taking close cases to the jury instead of plea bargaining. They noted that Peacock shot his wife at least two hours after finding her with another man -- a cooling off period that would have made the issue of rage arguable.

David P. Henninger, a defense attorney who once worked for Ms. O'Connor, said Baltimore County prosecutors refused a plea bargain with one of his clients who discovered his wife with another man and fatally shot his wife's lover in a drunken rage.

His client, John Dennis, 37, of Dundalk, was convicted of first-degree murder in April and sentenced to life plus 10 years by another judge.

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