Woman gets 16 months for gun buy

Defendant bought assault rifle used by Palczynski in killings

January 18, 2001|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

An Essex woman known as a "neighborhood mom" was sentenced to 16 months in prison yesterday for purchasing the assault rifle that Joseph C. Palczynski used to kill four people during a two-week rampage last March.

Constance A. Waugh, 48, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis in a Baltimore courtroom packed with relatives of Palczynski's victims.

Garbis said sentencing guidelines that locked him into imposing a maximum of 16 months were "very, very low." He added that by giving Waugh the maximum, he was sending a message about illegal gun purchases.

"It's important for the public to know that if they get guns for people who can't have them, they've just bought a partnership into whatever crimes that result," Garbis said.

Waugh cried as she told Garbis that she hoped to be forgiven for buying guns for Palczynski, who couldn't purchase them himself because of an assault conviction.

"If I knew that he was going to do all the devastation that he did, I would never have considered doing it, or letting him con or coerce me into doing it," she said. "I suffer every day knowing the losses suffered by these families. The pain and the loss is something I'll live with the rest of my life."

But relatives of the people shot by Palczynski said forgiveness might be difficult.

"We're not a hateful family, but it's hard to forgive her," said Brian Chagnon, whose mother and stepfather, Gloria and George Shenk, were among the victims. "Her direct actions caused a lot of harm in a lot of people's lives."

Debora Meyers displayed a photograph outside the courthouse yesterday of her husband, David Meyers, who was also fatally shot by Palczynski. The two were married 13 years and had two children.

"David's chest was blasted open for nothing, just because he tried to help somebody," Meyers said, her eyes brimming with tears. "She took my daughters' father away from them forever."

Waugh was allowed to remain free until Feb. 18, when she is scheduled to surrender to federal authorities in Baltimore.

Richard H. Boucher Jr., Waugh's lawyer, said she is not expected to stay at her home in the 12000 block of Gracewood Drive, where she knew Palczynski as a neighbor.

Assistant U.S. Attorney James Webster said Palczynski drove Waugh to two gun shops March 6, gave her the cash to purchase a 12-gauge shotgun and an AR-15 assault rifle and had her sign a bill of sale when she turned the guns over to him.

"He told her he wanted to engage in target practice," Webster said.

The next day, Palczynski kidnapped his former girlfriend, Tracy Whitehead, from a Bowleys Quarters apartment and killed three people who tried to stop him, George and Gloria Shenk, and David Meyers, their neighbor.

The next night, Palczynski shot and killed Jennifer McDonel as she and her husband drove by after he had tried to steal a car.

Palczynski, who had a history of domestic violence and mental illness, remained at large for 10 days before he was shot and killed by Baltimore County police as they stormed the Dundalk apartment where he held Whitehead's mother, Lynn Whitehead; Lynn Whitehead's boyfriend, Andrew McCord; and their son, Bradley McCord.

Waugh pleaded guilty July 17 to purchasing the rifle from White Marsh Arms in the 11000 block of Reisterstown Road. Three other charges, including one stemming from Waugh's purchase of the 12-gauge shotgun from the Gun Shop in the 1600 block of Eastern Blvd., were dismissed by prosecutors.

Webster and Boucher said the sentencing guidelines for Waugh would have been the same if she had been convicted on all four charges.

Boucher argued that Waugh deserved a lenient sentence because she suffered from psychological problems. She also had no way of knowing that Palczynski would kill four people, he said.

"She's been widely characterized as a neighborhood mom, which is why she developed a relationship with Mr. Palczynski," Boucher said.

Waugh worked as a transportation supervisor for United Cerebral Palsy, but quit nine years ago and began collecting disability payments because of complications from Buerger's disease, a circulatory disorder, said Dr. Neil Blumberg, a psychiatrist who testified for the defense.

Waugh suffered from chronic depression and other psychological problems that made it difficult for her to turn down Palczynski, who was a family friend, Blumberg testified.

"In my opinion, he [Palczynski] played her like a fiddle," Blumberg said.

But Dr. John Lion, a psychiatrist for the prosecution, testified that it took an hour for Palczynski to persuade Waugh to buy the guns, and that she knew that she was lying when she signed store receipts for them.

"This was a fairly resourceful woman," Lion said. "I did not see her as that naive."

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