Judge OKs police confession of man charged as car theft leader

November 15, 1994|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Sun Staff Writer

Prosecutors were granted permission yesterday to use a police confession from an 18-year-old man alleged to be the leader of a theft ring that stole 20 four-wheel-drive vehicles last winter.

Christopher James Peca of Columbia is to stand trial Jan. 9 in Howard Circuit Court on 96 charges related to the theft of 12 vehicles and the attempted theft of five others last December.

The prosecution contends that Mr. Peca, of the 9300 block of Afternoon Lane, belonged to a car club called the Low Riders that stole the vehicles from East Columbia between Dec. 25 and Jan. 3.

Some vehicles were taken on joy-rides to Lake Elkhorn in Columbia's Owen Brown village, where the participants would play "crash-up derby" and "bumper cars," police said.

At yesterday's hearing, Judge Dennis Sweeney denied a request from Mr. Peca's attorney to bar the prosecution from using statements he made to police.

In addition, Judge Sweeney overrode defense objections and granted a request by the prosecution to give Mr. Peca one trial covering all the cases against him.

Assistant State's Attorney Daniel Vaccaro asserted that Mr. Peca was the leader of the group. "The defendant was the perpetrator of numerous thefts, stole the cars and doled them out to the other individuals," Mr. Vaccaro said.

The prosecutor told Judge Sweeney that he intended to use the confession to show how the thefts were related. He noted that most of the incidents involved Jeep Cherokees or Chevrolet Blazers stolen from East Columbia.

Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Osterman asked Judge Sweeney to prohibit the use of statements her client gave to police during two interviews in January.

Ms. Osterman argued that the statements should be suppressed because Mr. Peca, who was 17 at the time of his arrest, did not talk to his parents before one of the interviews with the investigators.

She added that police held Mr. Peca for an unusual amount of time for a juvenile during the interrogations -- eight hours on Jan. 5 and three hours on Jan. 26.

Detective George Glorioso, the investigator who questioned Mr. Peca, testified that Mr. Peca signed a form granting an interview and waiving his rights to have an attorney with him.

Mr. Peca presented a "hard attitude" and showed little concern about being arrested, said Detective Glorioso.

Also yesterday, one of Mr. Peca's co-defendants -- Jeffrey Kenneth Rhodes, 20, of the 9700 block of Evening Primrose in North Laurel -- accepted a plea agreement for his role in the car thefts.

Rhodes pleaded guilty to one count of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle for driving a 1991 Jeep Cherokee on Dec. 26 that was stolen from Columbia.

The agreement calls for Rhodes to be sentenced up to six months in prison and to pay $627 in restitution. He will be sentenced by Judge Sweeney on Jan. 12.

In the last several months, three other co-defendants have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from one year to two years after pleading guilty to thefts.

A fourth defendant is to be sentenced next week.

Another defendant, a 16-year-old boy, was prosecuted in juvenile court. The outcomes of juvenile cases are not disclosed.

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