Bum deal in court for somebody

November 24, 1996|By GREGORY KANE

The night of Dec. 20, 1994, Franklin Keith Selby drove a women's exotic dance troupe to the Gentlemen's 10 club on Edmondson Avenue. He needed extra cash and decided to act as chauffeur for the women.

He dropped them off sometime between 8: 45 and 9: 15 that night, he remembers, and then waited as the dancers -- with names like Cream and Black Coffee -- shook their pretty thangs for the men in the club. He drove the women to the home of one of the dancers, Ramunda Smith, about 2: 45 a.m. Eugene Chase, who was at the Gentlemen's 10 that night, swears Selby was there.

But Baltimore County Assistant State's Attorney Jason League insists Selby was somewhere else that night, on a lonely road where he raped a woman and then stole her Acura. Selby is now serving 18 months for the crime in the Baltimore County Detention Center as part of a plea bargain that he and his father, Milton, say the younger Selby was misled into making by Baltimore attorney Howard Cardin.

"He [Cardin] made a statement about judges and courts in Baltimore County being racially conservative, meaning any way I went I would be convicted," the younger Selby, whose family and friends call him Frank, recalled.

"He instructed me as to this is what I should do, because I needed to support my son. He advised me it would be in my best interest to take the plea. He put it to me like this: You either got 15 years or 18 months."

Milton Selby also recalled that Cardin used the word conservative. Milton then demanded that Cardin simply use the word "racist," since that seemed to be what he was implying.

Cardin remembers the conversation and circumstances differently.

"I indicated Baltimore County has some of the toughest juries," Cardin recollected. "I did not in any way talk of any racial overtones. I would never do that." He urged Frank to take the plea bargain, because without it, "He would have gotten substantially more time," Cardin believes to this day.

Milton Selby is still convinced that his son was panicked into taking the plea and believes, given the evidence, that Frank would have been acquitted.

League doesn't agree, which should come as no surprise.

"I wouldn't have allowed Mr. Selby to plead guilty if I felt he was the wrong person," League said. "He was found in possession of the victim's car keys and car. The suspect's car had a headlight out. Selby's car had a headlight out. The man the victim picked out of the lineup was darker-skinned than Mr. Selby but looked like Mr. Selby. The victim said the suspect was a light-skinned black male. There's no doubt in my mind Mr. Selby's involved in this."

League said he allowed a plea bargain at the request of the victim, who didn't want to testify.

"Normally we would never even offer this kind of deal," he said.

Very noble of League to consider the victim's feelings, what with a medical report saying there was no evidence that sexual intercourse had occurred and in light of that curious lineup report. It seems the victim couldn't tell her alleged assailant Selby -- a straight-haired, light-skinned 21-year-old with a black father and a white mother -- from a black guy Milton Selby swears is darker than I am. (And from the picture Milton showed me, the man the victim picked out and Frank look nothing alike, League's assertion to the contrary notwithstanding.)

On that basis alone, it seems like Frank was a sure shot for acquittal -- at least on the rape charge. But there was the armed robbery charge. Frank was, in fact, caught with the victim's car keys and car near the corner of Elmer and Belvedere avenues in the city. Cardin believes that even if Frank had beaten the rape charge, the jury would have convicted him of armed robbery and that his client would have received as much time as he would have for a rape conviction. But the younger Selby had an explanation for why he had the car.

"I was on my way to a job interview at a McDonald's in Reisterstown," Selby recalled. "I had 30 minutes to get there when my brakes failed at the corner of Belvedere and Litchfield."

What Keith did next both he and his father agree was stupid. He asked some guy he knows only by the street name of "Fatts" to drive him. Fatts said he couldn't give him a lift but could lend him a car: the victim's. Fatts gave Frank the keys to the victim's car. City police, who had the car staked out, swooped in just as Frank was about to pull off.

Is Frank's story credible? A Baltimore County jury might not have gone for it, but it's plausible to me. Milton Selby lives in a Pimlico neighborhood where young, decent guys hang out with known reprobates -- against the advice of fathers such as Selby. It's perfectly conceivable this "Fatts" character exists -- but don't expect him to come forward proclaiming Frank Selby's innocence.

One last thing in the matter of Frank Selby's guilt or innocence. He has no prior criminal record and has asked for a retrial, charging that Cardin didn't inform him of all the consequences of his guilty plea. If convicted, he could face 15 years or more. Wouldn't a guilty man just take the 18 months and figure he's gotten over like a fat rat?

"If my boy committed this heinous crime, he should be in jail," Milton Selby told me. "But my boy is innocent." If Frank Selby is guilty, he'll be free in 18 months to rape and rob again. If he's innocent, he's the victim of an injustice. But one thing is certain: Either he got a bum deal or law-abiding citizens got one.

Pub Date: 11/24/96

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