Rival calls prosecutor too easy on criminals Weathersbee disputes accuracy of statistics noted by Trunnell

September 24, 1998|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

The challenger to Anne Arundel County's 10-year incumbent prosecutor fired his first campaign salvo yesterday at Frank R. Weathersbee, alleging that the career prosecutor is soft on career criminals.

Republican candidate Richard R. Trunnell said Weathersbee, a Democrat, is not aggressive in seeking mandatory sentences under state laws that provide for 10 years to life in prison for repeat violent offenders.

"These are people you should be taking off the street, and clearly that is not happening," Trunnell said, pointing to a police tally he obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request.

"The bottom line is, he is wrong. We go after mandatory sentencing if at all possible," Weathersbee replied, pointing to his office's score sheet.

Weathersbee's figures show that from Jan. 1 through June 30 last year, police referred to his office 119 cases involving habitual offenders for possible mandatory sentences. Of those, 49 criminals received at least the mandatory sentence, 66 cases didn't qualify, and prosecutors decided not to seek mandatory sentences in four cases that did qualify.

That gives his office a record of obtaining mandatory sentences in more than 90 percent of the cases that qualified, he said.

Mandatory sentencing allows prosecutors to seek 25 years in prison for a three-time violent criminal under certain circumstances. There are similar provisions for repeat drug dealers and for violent offenders on their second or fourth trips through the court system.

Trunnell, 36, a Crofton lawyer in private practice and a former Prince George's County prosecutor, is waging an uphill fight to unseat Weathersbee, 54, of Crownsville.

Trunnell said yesterday that he asked police for the number of cases of repeat violent offenders -- robbers and rapists, for example -- referred to prosecutors during at least the past 3 1/2 years. What he received indicated that the state's attorney's office obtained the mandatory sentence for about 12 percent of the cases police referred.

Police doubt accuracy

Police said yesterday that some of the numbers they gave Trunnell might be wrong because police are not aware of the outcome of every potential career-criminal case they forward to prosecutors and why some were not pursued. They gave Trunnell figures on all potential cases, not just those involving violent criminals.

The head of the repeat-offenders unit, Sgt. Robert N. Naumann, said the information he gave Trunnell reflected all potential repeat offenders in cases involving drugs and violence. Though sure of the number of potential cases his officers flagged for prosecutors and for which they were asked to verify criminal records, he was uncertain of the accuracy of his figures for how many received mandatory sentences.

Statistics not comparable

The statistics of the police and the prosecutor are not comparable. Many cases have yet to come to trial, and cases forwarded one year might not be closed until the next. Police did not distinguish among them, and Weathersbee's office had figures only for closed cases. Police had numbers going back to to 1993, and Weathersbee has tracked them only to Jan. 1, 1997.

"I send down the cases we feel might qualify. They have to determine what are viable cases. I assume they are doing their best," Naumann said.

Weathersbee fired a return accusation at Trunnell, saying his opponent's recent fund-raising mailing committed the common error of failing to include the fine print attributing it to his campaign committee, which is required by law.

Pub Date: 9/24/98

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