Suspicious box forces evacuation of courthouse Package had letter attacking Gilliam judge

December 04, 1998|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore County Courthouse was evacuated yesterday after a trained police dog mistakenly identified a mysterious package as a bomb in the chambers of Circuit Judge John F. Fader II, who signed the death warrant in the recent execution of murderer Tyrone X Gilliam.

The box was later found to contain three red balloons and a mocking note that criticized the judge for ordering the execution of Gilliam, who died of lethal injection Nov. 16 for the murder and robbery of Christine J. Doerfler 10 years ago.

A county police spokeswoman refused to release the exact wording of the note yesterday, saying police were investigating whether the mailing of the package and note constitutes a crime.

Christine Raub, the judge's law clerk, said the note stated, "You've executed Tyrone Gilliam, you have turned justice into a three-ring circus." She said it was signed with the name of an unknown group with the initials CRAB.

The judge said he discovered what he thought was a suspicious-looking package -- a box about 18 inches by 18 inches -- at 7: 45 a.m. yesterday.

It had been delivered Wednesday by mail, was addressed to the judge and had a nonexistent return address in Phoenix, Md., with the words "Ringling Brothers" above the return address, said Fader.

"It was very, very light. The chances of it being anything were not great, but you don't take a chance," he said.

After Fader called in the sheriff's department, Sgt. Mike Corrigan told the judge to leave his office. The courthouse was evacuated shortly after 8 a.m., sending hundreds of court employees, lawyers and judges outside for a little more than an hour.

Officials summoned Deputy Sheriff Rick Wolf and his K-9 Rottweiler, Duke. The dog, trained to sniff explosives, indicated three times -- by sitting down after sniffing the box -- that there might have been a bomb.

But when the county police department's bomb expert later X-rayed the box and opened it, it only contained the three inflated balloons and the note.

Yesterday, Wolf theorized that the dog could have been smelling other chemicals that are contained in homemade bombs or other contraband dogs are trained to sniff.

"The person who packaged it may have been around fertilizers, which has nitrates in it," he said. He also said that the person who put the package together "could have had narcotics on his hands."

Yesterday, Jerome H. Nickerson Jr., Gilliam's lawyer, who fought a losing eleventh-hour battle in court and with Gov. Parris N. Glendening to save his client's life, said he had no idea who sent the package to Fader.

Of the note to the judge, he said, "I think the governor should have been CC'd on that letter."

Pub Date: 12/04/98

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