Woman guilty of buying gun for fugitive

Palczynski used rifle in rampage killing 4

July 18, 2000|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

An Essex woman pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court yesterday to illegally purchasing the rifle and ammunition that Joseph C. Palczynski used in a two-week rampage and hostage standoff that left four people dead in March.

Constance A. Waugh, 48, appeared frail and tearful as she pleaded guilty to knowingly providing the firearm to a convicted felon.

When she was arrested in March, Waugh told police that Palczynski gave her money to buy the rifle and a Mossberg shotgun, telling her he wanted them for target shooting.

Palczynski couldn't purchase the weapons himself because he had been convicted of assault.

Waugh could be sentenced up to 10 years in prison.

"I'm certainly going to look at what happened in this case," said Judge Marvin J. Garbis, who set sentencing for Oct. 20.

The day after Waugh purchased the weapons and turned them over to Palczynski, he began his rampage, kidnapping his former girlfriend, Tracy Whitehead, from a Bowleys Quarters apartment and killing three people who tried to help her.

The next night, he killed a passing motorist during an attempted carjacking.

When Waugh first appeared in court after her arrest in March, she appeared dazed and needed to be guided to the defense table by federal agents.

Yesterday, she was subdued but answered the judge's questions in a quiet voice, occasionally dabbing her eyes with a tissue.

She did not address the court, except to answer mostly "yes" and "no" questions from the judge about her guilty plea. Waugh and her lawyer, Richard Boucher Jr., were led out of the courtroom through a back door and were unavailable for comment.

She will remain free on her own recognizance until sentencing.

Palczynski, who had a history of domestic violence and mental illness, was killed by Baltimore County police after they stormed the Dundalk apartment where he had held Whitehead's mother, Lynn Whitehead; her boyfriend, Andrew McCord; and their son, Bradley McCord.

Steve and Brian Chagnon, sons of Gloria Shenk, attended yesterday's hearing. Shenk and her husband, George Shenk, were harboring Tracy Whitehead in their apartment when they were killed by Palczynski.

Outside the courtroom after yesterday's hearing, Steve Chagnon held up a photograph of the Shenks. Palczynski "said he was buying the guns for target practice. Here's the target," he said angrily, pointing to his mother and stepfather.

James Webster, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted Waugh, said the government, in accepting her guilty plea, was dropping three other charges, including one involving Waugh's purchase of the shotgun. He said the potential sentence of 10 years would have been the same whether she was convicted on one charge or four.

Outside the courtroom, Webster also noted that Waugh's purchase of the firearms is illegal under federal law but not Maryland law, which allows convicted felons such as Palczynski to purchase certain types of weapons, such as the shotgun and the rifle.

"It's a huge loophole" in Maryland law, he said, noting that Baltimore County officials referred the Waugh case to his office because "they had no statute to prosecute her under."

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