Suspected cop killer deserved exile

Career criminal: Fugitive was arrested at least 25 times in 14 years, seven times on gun charges.

February 16, 2000

A HIGHER authority decides how long we have on this earth, to be sure. But mortals do what they can by passing laws -- and enforcing them as if lives were at stake.

Baltimore County Police Sergeant Bruce A. Prothero, a 35-year-old father, may have lost his life because guns laws are not more vigorously enforced in Baltimore.

Sergeant Prothero was shot to death last week in a jewelry store holdup. The alleged triggerman, 29-year-old Richard Antonio Moore, would have been in federal prison had he been senteced under provisions of Richmond's Project Exile or Baltimore's Project Disarm.

FOR THE RECORD - An editorial last week should have said Richard Antonio Moore, the suspected shooter in the murder of Baltimore County Sgt. Bruce A. Prothero, has been convicted of five felonies.
The Sun regrets the error.

Federal law would have dictated a sentence of at least seven years for Moore's last weapons charge in 1994.

With eight prior felonies, moreover, Moore could well be serving life without parole, according to one federal law enforcement source.

Instead, on his eighth felony conviction in Baltimore he received a seven-month sentence.

"What do you have to do to get a significant jail sentence in Baltimore -- shoot the police chief?" the law enforcement official said.

If Moore is guilty of killing Sergeant Prothero, his record illustrates the price this region is paying for the lack of vigilance -- by Baltimore prosecutors and judges -- in pursuit of serial felons.

Moore's 15-year record of criminality is breathtaking in scope and appalling in the absence of sanctions. He faced his first gun charge at age 16 -- an armed robbery count heard on Aug. 25, 1986. That case was transferred to the juvenile system.

Three years later, he faced three new weapons charges -- all of them "nolle prosed," or not prosecuted.

On Jan. 12, 1993, another concealed weapons charge was heard. Again, the case was not tried.

On March 18, 1994, he faced yet another weapons possession charge which again nolle prosed. In one gun case, Moore was sentenced to 18 months.

After each appearance in court, Moore appears to have resumed his primary drug-related business on the street.

Over a 14-year span, from his first case to the most recent, he was charged with weapons violations at least seven times. He stood before judges on at least 24 occasions and was convicted of eight felonies.

His record includes charges of assault, battery, theft, armed robbery, malicious destruction, burglary, concealed dangerous weapons counts, resisting arrest and every conceivable drug offense.

Under Project Exile, possession of an illegal gun and certain drugs earns an automatic five-year jail term. With a previous felony conviction the sentence can be longer. Criminals charged under federal law in Maryland have received sentences averaging more than seven years.

Exile and Disarm hope to reduce the prevalence of guns by changing a culture in which guns are carried thoughtlessly and constantly -- and an attitude in the courts where judges seem reluctant to prescribe severe sentences in gun cases unless the gun has been used.

Exile holds, conversely, that if a criminal is merely carrying a gun illegally his offense must be regarded as violent. If he has not already killed or wounded someone, he will. He is a prime candidate for exile, removal from the community he endangers.

Too often, Maryland judges have allowed the Richard Moores of the world to walk on charges of mere possession.

If the gun is not used, they say, what's the problem? No harm no foul.

That theory could be responsible for the death a father of five, a police officer trying to make ends meet.

The need for change could hardly be overstated. In Baltimore, law enforcement officials say, weapons charges are lodged against 2,000 or more offenders each year.

About half arrive in court with a previous felony conviction. Under Exile or Disarm, they would almost certainly do substantial time.

The U.S. attorney's Project Disarm, which is described today on the Opinion Commentary page opposite, aims to double its gun cases this year, moving from 96 convictions last year to about 200 this year. It is possible that unrelenting prosecutions -- on a city, state and federal level -- will reduce the overall number of gun violations and violators.

Moore's two alleged accomplices, though younger, were as busy in the field of crime as he, according to their records. Both were charged repeatedly with violation of gun laws. Firearms charges alone against one of these suspects could have drawn a sentence of 30 years to life under federal law. The third suspect faced three weapons counts an, if convicted, five years in jail.

Richard Antonio Moore's relationship with jail over the past 15 years has been a remarkable one. He was released from prison most recently on Jan. 5 to serve the remainder of his sentence in home detention. But police say he violated terms of that confinement and was already being sought by them at the time of the Prothero shooting.

Had he been "exiled" or "disarmed," police would have known where he was.

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