Judge wasn't told record when he cut Thomas' bail

March 31, 1995|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Sun Staff Writer

Carroll District Judge Donald M. Smith was not told about the extensive criminal record of a man accused of attacking a Westminster woman when he released the man on unsecured bond, according to a tape recording of the court hearing.

Judge Smith released the suspect, Charles Bernard Thomas Jr., 48, March 20 on charges that he had kidnapped and sexually assaulted a woman in January.

Police are now seeking Mr. Thomas because, they charge, he stabbed the woman and stole her car early Tuesday.

Carroll prosecutors have said publicly that it was "unfortunate" that Judge Smith lowered Mr. Thomas' bail from $30,000 to $5,000 and made it unsecured, which meant that Mr. Thomas was freed without having to post cash or collateral.

Prosecutors claimed they had argued "strenuously" against the low bond.

But, according to a tape of the brief hearing, Assistant State's Attorney Shawn Larson did not offer any arguments to Judge Smith.

"Does the state have any questions?" Judge Smith asked.

"No, your honor," Mr. Larson replied.

"Does the state wish to be heard?" the judge asked.

"No, your honor," the prosecutor said.

Mr. Larson, asked yesterday whether he recalled asking Judge Smith to keep Mr. Thomas' bail at $30,000, said he didn't ask him to reduce it.

He said he ordinarily would have handed the judge a copy of the defendant's criminal record, but would not necessarily have spoken to the judge about it during the hearing.

"I would have certainly let the court know about that. I would

have given the court a copy of the record," Mr. Larson said.

He produced a copy of Mr. Thomas' criminal record -- which notes convictions for manslaughter, grand theft, burglary and other offenses dating to 1964.

Deputy State's Attorney Martha Ann Sitterding, who told the Carroll County Times that her office strenuously argued against the lower bail, told The Sun yesterday that her remarks were misconstrued.

She said Mr. Larson was visibly upset after the bail hearing, not that he had made strident arguments before Judge Smith.

Judge Smith said yesterday that he doesn't recall details of the March 20 hearing and doesn't recall what, if any, criminal record he may have been given.

"I really don't recall what happened," the judge said.

But Judge Robert F. Sweeney, chief judge of Maryland's District Courts, reviewed a copy of the court file in Mr. Thomas' case and a tape of the bail hearing yesterday, and said that he would find it difficult to believe that Judge Smith would have set such a low bail had he known of Mr. Thomas' criminal record.

"The suggestion that Judge Smith is lenient is not accurate," Judge Sweeney said.

"Every judge's nightmare is this situation. You do what you do with what is presented to you."

Judge Sweeney noted that, even if Mr. Thomas' complete criminal record had surfaced at the bail review hearing, the purpose of bail is not punishment for past wrongdoing.

"The stated purpose of bail is to ensure a defendant's appearance for trial," the judge said.

"You do not detain a person before his trial unless there is some absolute necessity to do so."

According to Westminster police, a custodial worker at a Carroll Community College annex in the 300 block of S. Center St. was found at 6:50 a.m. Tuesday by Wallace Brown Jr., an employee at the college, when he entered the unlocked building and heard the victim's cries for help.

Authorities said the 56-year-old woman had been stabbed in the left chest, beaten about the face and head, apparently kicked in one eye and pushed down a flight of steps.

She was in fair condition at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center last night.

The victim and Mr. Thomas had lived at the same address for 18 years, authorities said.

In late January, the woman told Westminster police that a man choked, kidnapped and tried to rape her, and took her to the home of one of his relatives in Harrisburg, Pa.

Mr. Thomas, charged in that incident, was held by Pennsylvania authorities until they dropped assault charges and returned him to Carroll on March 17.

Court records here show that Mr. Thomas has been charged with crimes in Carroll County, including automobile manslaughter, attempted murder and battery, but has never been convicted in Carroll.

State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes yesterday pledged to personally handle the prosecution once Mr. Thomas is arrested.

". . . I will prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law," Mr. Barnes said yesterday.

Mr. Thomas' whereabouts remained unknown last night.

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