Conviction in beating of wife upheld Man's quest to clear record caused uproar

April 04, 1997|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

In a case that had sparked an outcry from women's rights groups and legislators, a judge in Baltimore County rejected yesterday Charles H. Weiner's bid to wipe out a conviction for beating his estranged wife.

Weiner's lawyer said his client, a Baltimore pawnbroker, needed a clean record to conduct business and to own a gun. But the judge noted the "extreme aggression" of Weiner's attack and pointed to a similar conviction 20 years ago.

Yesterday's hearing came two months after county Circuit Judge Thomas J. Bollinger Sr. wiped out the battery conviction when Weiner said he needed a clean record so that he could join a country club, among other reasons.

That ruling, in February, prompted such anger from women's rights groups and legislators that Bollinger reversed himself on a legal technicality, reinstated the conviction and disqualified himself from hearing cases involving rape or domestic violence.

The outcry prompted Baltimore County's administrative judge to point to "media exploitation" as a reason that no local judge should hear the case.

As a result, yesterday's unusual reconsideration of Weiner's request was heard by Washington County Circuit Judge Frederick C. Wright III.

Wright refused to change the battery conviction to probation before judgment because of the seriousness of the injuries to Robin Weiner's eye, ear and face when Charles Weiner beat her head against a tile floor.

"It is obvious to me Mrs. Weiner did receive a beating which has lasting effects," the judge said.

Charles Weiner, 50, visibly upset at yesterday's ruling, declined to comment. Robin Weiner, who was also in the courtroom, also declined to comment.

Wright said he found no extraordinary circumstances that would lead him to wipe out the conviction. A ruling of probation before judgment would have allowed Weiner -- after a period of time -- to have his record expunged.

When the judge asked for reasons that probation should be granted, lawyer Steven R. Freeman noted that Charles Weiner's pawnbroker's license might be threatened, but he conceded that the license had not been affected by the 1995 conviction.

Then Charles Weiner noted a new federal law that would prevent him from keeping a gun. "If you're convicted of a crime involving domestic violence, you cannot own a firearm," he told the judge.

Although Weiner's East Baltimore pawnshop does not sell guns, he keeps them for protection and collects them. In an interview with The Sun Feb. 7, Weiner said his interest in owning guns was "not a motivation" for seeking to wipe out his conviction.

Wright, in denying the probation request, also noted the revelation -- reported in The Sun March 2 -- that Charles Weiner had received probation before judgment 20 years ago for beating his first wife.

In explaining his ruling, Wright said to Freeman, "What Judge Bollinger didn't know was that your client had been granted probation before judgment in 1977 in a similar offense."

Earlier in the hearing, Freeman had played down the mention in February of Charles Weiner's interest in a clean record to get into a country club, calling it a "minor, small example" blown out of proportion by the media.

Freeman said Weiner believed his wife was having affairs and stealing from his business. The lawyer also accused Robin Weiner of exaggerating her injuries.

Freeman criticized a letter from a domestic violence counselor, whom Charles Weiner saw as part of his sentence and who called him "among our most resistant and disruptive clients."

In defending Weiner, Freeman attacked the domestic violence program.

"This program was bad for him. It was a very upsetting thing for him to go through," Freeman said. The therapy was too confrontational for his client, the defense attorney said.

Prosecutor James O'C. Gentry Jr. accused Freeman of trying to blame the victim.

Any allegations of theft or infidelity "didn't justify violently beating another human being. He didn't just slap her across the face. He took her by the head and repeatedly struck her head on the tile floor at the same time saying, 'I'm going to kill you,' " Gentry said.

"This man doesn't deserve a [probation before judgment]. Everyone everywhere should know he's an abuser," the prosecutor said.

Pub Date: 4/04/97

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