Explosives case suspect free in surprise move

Charges were dropped temporarily

he posts bond in another case

Laney indictment had `defect'

March 24, 2001|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

When Howard County prosecutors temporarily dropped all charges against an Ellicott City man in a major explosives case this week, they thought an unrelated conviction would keep him in jail.

But that conviction is on appeal, which allowed Richmond C. Laney, 44, to post a $2,000 appeal bond and leave the Howard County Detention Center late Thursday, the first time he had been free in more than eight months.

The surprise release of Laney, whose trial on charges that he stockpiled an arsenal in his home was unexpectedly stalled Thursday, came as a surprise and caused concern for some court officials, who said they had thought the former Republican candidate for sheriff would remain jailed at least until prosecutors worked out the kinks in the explosives case.

Howard County State's Attorney Marna L. McLendon said yesterday that she had been told the appeal bond - which is related to Laney's conviction on a civil contempt charge last year - had been withdrawn and that Laney would serve out the remainder of his 18-month sentence.

Had she known that his release was imminent, she said, "I expect we would have waited until Monday" to drop the charges. Monday is when Laney was to be tried on the explosives charges.

Instead, Laney posted the appeal bond in the case, which stemmed from nonpayment of child support, and left the Detention Center at 7:15 p.m. Thursday.

His release rattled a few courthouse employees yesterday.

McLendon said she had heard from Master Bernard A. Raum, who said last year that Laney had threatened him. Raum said yesterday that he did not want to comment.

"People in the courthouse have some concern, knowing of Mr. Laney's history," McLendon said.

McLendon said prosecutors and the state's attorney's office are trying to determine whether there is a way to refile charges against Laney quickly.

Laney's public defender, Louis P. Willemin, did not return a call seeking comment yesterday, and Laney could not be reached for comment.

The explosives case came to a sudden halt about noon Thursday when prosecutors, noting problems with the wording in an indictment, dropped the charges against Laney.

Deputy State's Attorney I. Matthew Campbell said yesterday that there was a "defect" in one count in the 12-count indictment and that "we didn't want the case to go to the jury without that count being firm." He said the case will be presented again to the grand jury "as soon as possible." The grand jury next meets Thursday.

McLendon said yesterday that problems with the indictment revolved around a count that dealt with a piece of detonation cord, one of the few suspected explosives seized from Laney's house last July that had not been destroyed.

According to a report filed by an expert for the defense March 8, "all of the alleged explosive devices were destroyed by detonation" two days after they were reported found in Laney's Fels Lane house. "There is no evidence to support that any of the devices or material contained explosives or were destructive in nature," the report says.

McLendon called the destruction of the items "one of the issues of concern in the case."

Laney, who ran unsuccessfully for Howard County sheriff in 1990 and 1994, was two weeks into his sentence for nonpayment of child support when a property manager for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reported finding a cache of weapons during a visit to Laney's house in Ellicott City in July.

The worker had been sent to change the locks on Laney's home, in the 3600 block of Fels Lane, as the result of a foreclosure action.

The worker - and later the Howard County Police Department, the state fire marshal's office and federal agencies - reported finding a number of weapons and materials that could be used to make explosives, according to charging documents.

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