With delays exhausted, brothers sent to prison

Twins tried to stay together in city jail, reduce state time

January 22, 1999|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

Identical twins James and Charles Bolner are the longest residents of the Baltimore city jail in this decade -- and probably the happiest. But now they have a new home.

The brothers pleaded guilty to drug charges yesterday in Baltimore Circuit Court and were sentenced to 10 years in state prison without parole.

They "can't avoid [prison] now," said Assistant State's Attorney Salvatore Fili. Defendants await trial in the city jail, but generally are ordered to prison after conviction.

The cases illustrate how defendants who want to delay their trials can easily be accommodated -- as long as no one objects -- by a system so backlogged that swift justice is often more a hope than a constitutional principle.

Baltimore's court system recently came under attack because of chronic trial delays that led to the dismissal of murder charges against four men.

The cases against the Bolners, who were jailed in December 1994, have been postponed 13 times. Did they mind? No. They liked the jail and they liked being together -- something that cannot be guaranteed in the state prison system.

The brothers knew they would go to prison eventually. But they figured that by staying in the city jail they had a good chance of reducing their sentences by up to 15 days per month -- the maximum number allowed -- with credits earned from good behavior and their jobs. In prison, inmates can cut their sentences by the same number of days, but most average only 10 days per month.

If the brothers' assumptions are correct, their good-time credits from jail could bring them freedom more quickly than if they had been sent to prison before this. Prison officials aren't sure that will happen.

Yesterday the Bolners smiled as they stood before Judge Thomas Ward.

When he asked if they understood that they were giving up their right to be tried by a jury, the brothers, both wearing leg irons, answered in unison, "Yes, sir."

They shared a pair of glasses to read over court records. When one did not respond promptly to the judge's question, the other gently punched him in the shoulder, prodding him to answer.

Though sentenced to 10-year terms, the Bolners, 40, will serve no more than six years because of the time they spent in the city jail awaiting trial.

They pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute cocaine for selling a kilogram of cocaine to an undercover police officer in December 1994. Prosecutors said the cocaine was brought from Pennsylvania in the hidden compartment of a car.

The car was registered to Sixto Lizardo, who also pleaded guilty yesterday. He received a 10-year sentence, with all but three years suspended, for conspiracy to distribute cocaine. Lizardo, who prosecutors said is from the Dominican Republic, may be subject to deportation because of the conviction, prosecutors said.

A fourth defendant, Jose DeJesus Feliz, who dutifully showed up for his court hearings for a year, is now a fugitive and is believed to be in the Dominican Republic.

The brothers' cases have been postponed 13 times over four years, often because one of the four defense attorneys could not attend hearings. Twice, Charles Bolner's attorney, James S. Salkin, was granted postponements because of "pre-paid vacations."

The Bolners' trial was delayed twice because no courtroom was available. The 1996 blizzard caused another postponement.

All the while, the brothers stayed at the Baltimore City Detention Center, which is under orders to prevent crowding -- something Ward noted yesterday.

Ward said the Bolners and Lizardo were sentenced yesterday because the jail needed to free up beds and he had to "get things moving."

Fili, the prosecutor, said he agreed to the delays because the evidence in the case was not likely to disappear. The brothers were tape-recorded making arrangements for the cocaine sale, he said.

Yesterday, more than four years after the Bolners and Lizardo were arrested, Fili said that the sentences were appropriate.

"I think that justice was served," Fili said.

Pub Date: 1/22/99

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