Richmond C. Laney, the former Howard County sheriff's candidate accused of stockpiling an arsenal in his Ellicott City home, was convicted on two explosives charges yesterday but will face little, if any, additional jail time at his sentencing in October.
Laney, who has been in the Howard County Detention Center for the past 13 months - unable to post the bail set in the case - was released from custody yesterday on a $20,000 unsecured bond pending sentencing Oct. 18.
FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's editions of The Sun incorrectly described the plea that Richmond C. Laney, former Howard County sheriff's candidate, entered Friday on two explosives charges. Laney pleaded not guilty in Howard County Court and allowed the judge to decide his guilt or innocence based on a statement of facts. The article erroneously said that Laney pleaded guilty.
The Sun regrets the error.
Laney avoided a trial by pleading guilty in Howard Circuit Court yesterday and allowing Judge Raymond J. Kane to decide his guilt or innocence solely on an agreed-upon statement of facts that was read into the record during the hourlong hearing. In exchange, the state agreed to prosecute just two of the 11 counts against him and recommend that the judge suspend all but two years, at most, of whatever sentence is imposed.
Because Laney, 44, has served about 13 months awaiting trial, he likely would face a maximum of 11 more months behind bars - should Kane follow the recommendation.
"We're here today in a posture that's a little unusual to us," Deputy State's Attorney I. Matthew Campbell said to Kane at the outset.
But that posture held distinct advantages for both sides.
For the prosecution, hampered by the Army's decision to destroy nearly all of the alleged explosives found in Laney's house without testing them first, it ensured a conviction on the two strongest charges. Both charges - one a felony, one a misdemeanor - involve items that were tested: a piece of commercial detonating cord and a grenade fuze.
"It seemed like a sensible resolution to the case," Campbell said.
For the defense, it reduced Laney's exposure to multiple charges while preserving his appeal rights. Laney is likely to challenge in Maryland's Court of Special Appeals Kane's earlier ruling that investigators' search of his Fels Lane house without a warrant - and the resulting seizure of the alleged explosives - was legal.
The devices were discovered July 14, 2000, while Laney - a Republican candidate for sheriff in 1990 and 1994 and one-time Army reservist - was in the detention center serving a sentence for a conviction stemming from a child-support case - a conviction that was later overturned. The case has since been dropped.
Brad Criddle, a property manager for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs who had gone to the Laney home in the 3600 block of Fels Lane on a foreclosure action, ran into one of Laney's neighbors, who told him that he had seen explosives and weapons in the house. The neighbor let Criddle in with a key.
Criddle's discovery of what appeared to be military explosives, grenades and ammunition set off an investigation that drew local police, the state fire marshal's office and federal law enforcement agencies to the house.
A search turned up numerous alleged explosives - some old and rusty - and at least two manuals on explosives. One of the manuals, Campbell said, explains how to manufacture explosives and make homemade machine guns.
After Campbell read a statement of facts into the record yesterday, Kane found Laney guilty on both counts. Then, at the request of Deputy Public Defender Louis P. Willemin, who noted that Laney now faces very little additional jail time, Kane lowered Laney's bond from $250,000 to $20,000 and made it an unsecured bond - meaning Laney did not have to post money.
"There didn't seem to be any reason why he couldn't be released pending disposition," Willemin said later. "I see no reason for panic for anyone as it pertains to Richmond Laney."
Campbell told Kane yesterday that prosecutors continue to be puzzled by the case and hope a pre-sentence investigation, which would include a psychological evaluation, will answer the more "troubling" questions.
"We have ... absolutely no evidence that the defendant intended to use this array of destructive materials that he had in his home against any person or institution," Campbell said. Still, he added, "we do not have an explanation for why it was there, what it was for."
Members of Laney's family, who attended yesterday's hearing, declined to comment.