An Anne Arundel Circuit Court judge has come under fire for releasing a drug dealer from a 12-year sentence to allow him to enter a drug treatment program after one of the judge's longtime acquaintances testified on his behalf.
Judge Martin A. Wolff released Kirk R. DeCosmo in November, just six weeks after he sentenced him to a 12-year term for distribution of PCP. Relatives of a Glen Burnie mother of two killed in 1987 when her car was rammed by one Mr. DeCosmo was driving are incensed.
"Kirk DeCosmo should not have had his hand slapped. He should have been thrown in prison and the key thrown away," said Sandra Nellonback, whose mother, Freda Kay Siefert, was killed in the May 26, 1987, crash along Ritchie Highway.
Mr. DeCosmo was charged with driving under the influence of phencyclidine hydrochloride, or PCP, and auto manslaughter in the accident. He was acquitted of the PCP charge but convicted of auto manslaughter and sentenced in 1988 to prison for five years.
In another case the same year as the accident, he was sentenced to three years in prison after he was convicted of drug distribution, according to court records.
Court records also show that Mr. DeCosmo, 34, of Severn was charged with drug possession in December 1994, but prosecutors put that case on the inactive docket in Annapolis District Court.
Mr. DeCosmo was arrested again in January 1995 after police spotted him in a phone booth in Prince George's County known to be used by drug dealers, said Assistant State's Attorney M. Virginia Miles.
They followed him to Washington, where they saw him buy drugs, then to Anne Arundel County, where they stopped his car and found 2 ounces of PCP in the vehicle, she said.
Mr. DeCosmo pleaded guilty Aug. 9 to possession with intent to distribute PCP.
Judge Wolff sentenced him Oct. 5 to 12 years in prison, but the judge said he would consider releasing him if Mr. DeCosmo could get into Second Genesis, a yearlong inpatient drug therapy program in Crownsville. He was released Nov. 20 after a hearing in which several people spoke on his behalf.
Judge Wolff, one of the four circuit judges in the county standing for re-election Tuesday said he was convinced that Mr. DeCosmo had turned his life around.
"I made a promise to Mr. DeCosmo that if he didn't complete that drug program that I would make sure that he serves out every minute of his sentence," Judge Wolff said.
But Mrs. Siefert's relatives say Judge Wolff was swayed by the testimony of George Lantzas, a Glen Burnie lawyer who has known the judge for a long time and employed Mr. DeCosmo's wife, Sally, as his secretary.
"It's like the fix was in," said Barbara J. Brokus, Ms. Siefert's sister. "My question is, how many chances do you get? When it came to my sister, she only had one."
Mrs. Nellonback, a federal supply clerk from Pasadena, said she has written to state and county officials to express outrage at the way the case was handled.
"He should not have had that option of going to Second Genesis. We need tougher laws," she said.
Mr. Lantzas said Mrs. DeCosmo asked him to testify at the hearing and noted that he did it in an open session of court that was recorded.
"If there were any fix in, it wouldn't have been done in the light of day in an open courtroom," Mr. Lantzas said. "I had seen him [Mr. DeCosmo], and I was asked if I could help. You can't walk away from people that you know."
Judge Wolff said his relationship with Mr. Lantzas played no part in his decision.
"George is not one of my social buddies, if that's how you want to put it," he said.
Ms. Miles, who recommended a 12- to 20-year term in line with state sentencing guidelines, said she was "unhappy with the result."
She said she found Mr. DeCosmo "manipulative and very persuasive at getting people to give him another chance."
But Judge Wolff said he was persuaded after listening to Mr. DeCosmo's employer, his wife and his drug therapist and hearing evidence that medical tests confirmed he was drug-free for the 10 months since his arrest.
He also said he has learned to trust Second Genesis, a highly regarded program with facilities in Virginia, Maryland and Washington that returns its residents to the courts if they fail.
Ruth Cavanagh, a spokeswoman for Second Genesis, said a federal study recently found that 91 percent of its graduates remain drug-free for at least three years.
Richard M. Karceski, DeCosmo's lawyer, said that in the 10 months between his client's arrest and his appearance before Judge Wolff, he went through drug therapy and landed a job as a carpenter.
"I guess it's a situation where those who feel that the only good sentence is a pound of flesh are really going to be angry. But if you look at this case closely, it really isn't so outrageous," Mr. Karceski said.
Mr. DeCosmo is not allowed to take calls while at Second Genesis. His wife declined to comment.
Mr. DeCosmo's first wife, Donna K. Crozier, said he has been doing his best to pay the $75 he owes weekly in child support and is more attentive to their two children, calling and writing them frequently, since he remarried in April.
"You can tell the difference. He's got the right state of mind now," she said.