Years added to killer's life sentences

Hampstead man admits possessing firearms while on probation

July 29, 1999|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

A Hampstead man, who must serve consecutive life terms without parole if released from a secure state mental health facility, was sentenced yesterday to 17 years in prison after pleading guilty to violating probation and possessing firearms while on probation.

The sentences concurrent to the life terms were imposed yesterday by Carroll Circuit Judge Francis M. Arnold and mean that Smith Harper "Skip" Dean III, 40, would serve no added time, if he is transferred from Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center, said State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes.

"It's a matter of principle," Barnes said. "If we have laws forbidding possession and use of firearms by anyone convicted of previous violent crimes, [the laws] ought to be used."

Dean has been confined indefinitely to Perkins, a state prison in Jessup for those deemed a danger to themselves or others, since he nearly succeeded in taking an overdose of antidepressant medication that he had hoarded while in the Carroll County Detention Center in June 1998.

Dean avoided the death penalty by pleading guilty in April to the first-degree murders of Sharon Lee Mechalske, his former girlfriend, and Kent Leonard Cullison, an Arcadia letter carrier who was dating Mechalske. The murders took place in June 1997 in Hampstead.

Barnes acknowledged that most people, including court workers and staff members, did not understand his reasoning for pursuing the firearms and probation violation cases yesterday against Dean.

"This was overkill in most people's eyes," Barnes said. "I believe [criminals] must be held accountable and be given sentences they deserve, especially when the result of their offense is the death of two innocent people."

In his statement of the facts, Barnes said Dean was convicted in 1986 in Baltimore County for possession with intent to distribute cocaine, a felony. He was sentenced to 18 months and placed on probation in that case.

That conviction, Barnes said, made it illegal for Dean to possess a firearm in Maryland.

In 1994, Dean was convicted of a violent crime involving an assault of his wife and was given a 90-day sentence and placed on five years of supervised probation.

Barnes said Dean was on probation in June 1997 when he was arrested for the killings of Mechalske and Cullison.

A search of Dean's home led to the recovery of 13 weapons, a violation of his probation in the earlier case, Barnes said.

Barnes asked Arnold to order those weapons forfeited to the Maryland State Police for disposal.

Arnold imposed 13 one-year consecutive sentences on each count of the firearms charge and imposed the balance of the five years' probation, allowing credit for time served. He made the probation violation term consecutive to the sentences in the firearms case.

Barnes said the cumulative total added to about 17 years, but Arnold made that time concurrent to the double-life term Dean must serve, if he is released from Perkins.

Barnes said he is well-known as an advocate of the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms, but he supports the strict restrictions placed on those convicted of violent crimes involving the use of firearms.

Barnes has drafted a bill for presentation to the state legislature, patterned after federal laws, that would allow a maximum sentence of 20 years and a mandatory sentence of 10 years for anyone with a previous history of violent crime who is convicted of another crime involving the use of a firearm.

State laws cover handguns, but not rifles and shotguns, he said.

"We ought to be taking care of this ourselves and not go running to federal authorities to seek stricter penalties," said Barnes. "Ten years without parole is tough, brutal, but it should be."

Pub Date: 7/29/99

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