Defendant who missed trial is sentenced

Glen Burnie man gets 5 years in theft, assault

April 02, 1999|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Manuel Bautista, a missing man at his own trial, had his day of reckoning in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court yesterday.

Handcuffed and subdued in the court room, the 22-year-old received two concurrent five-year sentences and a tongue-lashing from a judge not amused by Bautista's flight the day of his trial in January on charges stemming from an August motel robbery in Glen Burnie.

"It's very rare that a defendant doesn't show up for trial," said Circuit Judge Eugene M. Lerner, "especially after he's picked a jury."

Without a law degree or a high school diploma, Bautista acted as his own attorney at the beginning of his trial, during jury selection.

"He did a good job," Lerner said. Before adjourning that day, Lerner instructed Bautista to return the next day at 8: 30 a.m. Bautista disappeared and remained at large until authorities arrested him Feb. 23.

"He wasn't in a car wreck or a hospital or on his deathbed. He just didn't show up," Assistant State's Attorney Anne Colt Leitess said in an interview yesterday. It was the first time she had seen a trial without a defendant in her 10-year career, she said.

The judge went ahead with the trial, and Bautista was found guilty of theft and second-degree assault, although there was nobody to speak for him.

Yesterday, Lerner said it was a fair trial, partly because Bautista was told twice about his legal right to counsel before he decided to represent himself. "The jury couldn't reach a verdict on count one," the robbery charge, he said.

Bautista and members of his family tried to excuse his January flight.

"Who told him not to come to court?" Lerner asked Bautista's weeping mother, Bernadine Bautista, who attended with almost a dozen other family members. "He knew better."

"He listens to the wrong persons at the wrong time," she replied. "I'm so sorry."

Manuel Bautista, who was unemployed and living with his mother in Glen Burnie, has maintained his innocence. His soft voice was not heard until close to the end of the hearing.

He said he didn't show up for the trial because "I was scared because I don't know how to represent myself."

Robert "Rob" Bautista said his brother fled because "you don't want to pay for the time if you didn't do the crime."

Daryl Jones, Bautista's new lawyer -- who was reprimanded by the judge for being late to court yesterday -- said the trial was "like Little League against the Orioles."

Leitess noted that Bautista had four convictions by age 21 and that his record indicated he lacked a "moral or social conscience." She said he received suspended sentences on each of those convictions, which included alcohol and drug violations and assault charges.

After stealing $300 from the Forest Motel in August, "free and clear, he hit the victim in the face," she said.

The trial had to proceed, Leitess said. "The whole of it is that you can't benefit from being absent, she said.

Lerner gave Bautista the shortest sentence possible under the law, which calls for five to 10 years in prison for similar crimes.

Bautista's lawyer said his client will appeal.

Pub Date: 4/02/99

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