Girl's marriage is campaign issue State's attorney candidates spar over pregnant teen's case

November 02, 1998|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

If it weren't for a pregnant 13-year-old marrying her 29-year-old boyfriend, the race for Anne Arundel County state's attorney might barely have raised an eyebrow.

Instead, controversy over the marriage has catapulted the Republican challenger, Richard R. Trunnell of Crofton, and the 10-year incumbent, Democrat Frank R. Weathersbee of Crownsville, into the tabloid National Enquirer and television show "Extra," and devoured most of an hourlong candidates' radio forum.

When the marriage made headlines in late September, Weathersbee's office said it had no plans to prosecute the husband for statutory rape. Weathersbee, however, said later his spokeswoman did not have all the information when she said that, because police were investigating the couple. He said he was then, and still is, waiting for the outcome of the investigation.

L Trunnell called that an about-face in response to publicity.

Otherwise, the race has been decidedly low-key in contrast to Weathersbee's contentious 1994 campaign against Republican John R. Greiber Jr., who took 46 percent of the votes.

Though Trunnell was quick to seize the issue of the girl's marriage, he has mostly emphasized what he considers the office's lackluster performance.

Each side is armed with statistics that it says tell the truth about everything from plea agreements to mandatory sentences for career criminals.

Trunnell says Weathersbee is soft on career criminals. A review of court records over a year showed that Weathersbee's staff had obtained mandatory sentences for 14 percent of the career criminals referred by police, Trunnell said.

But a state's attorney's office review of the same cases showed that mandatory sentences were obtained for about 50 percent to 90 percent of those cases, depending on a large set of variables.

The variables included whether the nonmandatory sentence a criminal received was equal to or greater than the mandatory sentence and whether the cases police referred qualified for mandatory sentences.

Trunnell also contends that assistant prosecutors are accepting too many plea agreements, which shows they are "not working hard enough" and are "giving away the farm."

Assistant prosecutors are "averaging three jury trials and three judge trials a year," he said.

Weathersbee dismisses the claim as irrelevant and wrong.

Comparable figures

"Our figures are very comparable to other counties," he said, pointing to statewide court statistics -- though Trunnell says they are misleading. "You can't create a quota system and try a case just to try a case."

Trunnell also has pointed to two death penalty convictions that were reversed -- one in which the Court of Appeals faulted a prosecutor's conduct -- as proof that Weathersbee cannot handle big cases.

Weathersbee said it is difficult to satisfy the state's top court in death penalty cases. "You don't see very many executions in Maryland, not like you do in Florida and Texas," he said.

Crime concerns down

Trunnell's claims have stirred no public outcry because battles over statistics come across as an insider debate when public concerns over law and order are down, said Dan Nataf, director )) of Anne Arundel Community College's Center for the Study of Local Issues.

"Reduced crime tends to favor the incumbents," Nataf said. Better-known Republicans would have tried to shove aside Trunnell, a political newcomer, if they had perceived an opportunity to unseat Weathersbee, he said.

Voter concern about crime dipped to 19 percent countywide, a three-year low, according to the center's fall poll. Problems in the drug-asset forfeiture program run by the state's attorney's office have produced little public reaction. In December, the county auditor criticized bookkeeping and record-keeping in the program, but the state prosecutor found no criminal wrongdoing.

Nataf is so convinced Weathersbee will win tomorrow that he has omitted questions about that race from his planned exit polls.

Not complacent

Weathersbee, 54, is not so complacent. A prosecutor since 1969 who is seeking a third elected term, he lashed out at Trunnell, 37, an assistant prosecutor for five years in Prince George's County who now has his own law practice.

Weathersbee calls him an inexperienced, lackluster prosecutor and says that during Trunnell's four years as vice president of the Crofton Civic Association, he skipped, was late or left meetings early nearly half the time.

Trunnell counters that the child and sex abuse cases he tried in Prince George's were at least as difficult and probably more difficult than murder cases and that he tried more cases in a given year than the average Anne Arundel prosecutor. As a Crofton officer, he went to other meetings. He said he skipped such things as the president's message when he knew what it would say, he said.

Pub Date: 11/02/98

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