Zollicoffer nephew gets outside prosecutor

Mother of accused has job in state's attorney's office

May 08, 2002|By Sarah Koenig | Sarah Koenig,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore state's attorney's office announced yesterday that it will enlist an outside prosecutor to handle the pending criminal cases of Lawrence D. Hutchings, nephew of City Solicitor Thurman W. Zollicoffer.

Hutchings' mother - not his powerful uncle - is the reason for the special assignment.

Carolyn Hutchings, Zollicoffer's sister, has an administrative job in the state's attorney's office.

To avoid a possible conflict of interest, her son's cases will not be handled by anyone who might have a relationship to her.

The state's attorney's office did not comment directly on Hutchings' cases. It referred a reporter to its policy on conflicts of interest.

"Any employee who has a relative, significant other, or close family friend charged with a criminal offense, is under investigation in Baltimore City, or summoned in Baltimore City must notify a Deputy State's Attorney," the policy states.

Carolyn Hutchings has had to make such notifications many times. Her son, 22, has been in trouble with police at least since 1998, and has been convicted of a handgun crime and of first-degree assault.

Hutchings' cases drew scrutiny last week after Zollicoffer went to his sister's house and harangued police who had arrested his nephew and were awaiting a warrant to search the Northeast Baltimore home.

Zollicoffer accused the officers of using "Gestapo tactics" and, according to police, used racially charged language and threatened their jobs. The police union has lodged a complaint with the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission, which disciplines lawyers.

Hutchings was scheduled to be arraigned yesterday in Circuit Court in an incident March 15 in which he is accused of leading police on a car chase. He is charged with illegal possession of a handgun, altering a 9 mm Luger, cocaine possession and traffic violations.

The arraignment was postponed, in part because of his arrest last week on drug charges. He is accused of selling cocaine to undercover police.

Because of Hutchings' mother's connection to the state's attorney's office, a Harford County prosecutor was borrowed in 1999 to work on Hutchings' first-degree murder case. The charges were dismissed after a grand jury decided not to indict him.

Last year, then-narcotics prosecutor Lisa Hardy was assigned to an attempted first-degree murder case in which Hutchings was charged with stabbing a man six or seven times in the back.

Hardy, now in private practice, said yesterday that she was new to the office at the time, and did not know Hutchings' mother. The case ended with a plea deal in which Hutchings was sentenced to 18 months.

The same year, another newcomer to the office, Theresa Shaffer, took an assault and gun case involving Hutchings to trial. He was acquitted.

Both prosecutors told their superiors that Zollicoffer had appeared at court proceedings. In Hardy's case, he told the judge of his connection to the defendant and, contrary to courtroom rules, talked with and physically comforted his nephew, who was handcuffed and shackled.

In Shaffer's case, Zollicoffer approached her after her closing arguments and warned that he would be looking into her performance for signs of prosecutorial misconduct.

For his part, Hutchings has not been shy about dropping his uncle's name.

At his bail review hearing before a District Court judge last week, he argued for a lower bail, saying, "I come from a good family. My uncle is Thurman Zollicoffer."

Sun staff writer Del Quentin Wilber contributed to this article.

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