Man accused in violent crimes convicted on lesser charge

Possession of body armor resulted in conviction

January 14, 2003|By John B. O'Donnell | John B. O'Donnell,SUN STAFF

A 26-year-old Baltimore man who has been repeatedly accused - but often not convicted - of serious violent crimes had attempted murder charges dropped yesterday after he pleaded guilty to illegal possession of a bulletproof vest.

It was the 12th time that Solothal Deandre Thomas either has been acquitted of attempted murder or had charges dropped by prosecutors.

After Judge John N. Prevas sentenced Thomas to four years in prison on two misdemeanor vest charges, Assistant State's Attorney James Wallner dropped the attempted murder case because he considered it too weak to win a conviction.

Thomas, known as "Itchy Man," was featured in a series of articles, "Justice Undone," published in The Sun in late September and early October. He was noted as an example of a defendant who has benefited from problems besetting the criminal court system, including faulty and insufficient police investigations, prosecution missteps, and unreliable and frightened witnesses intimidated into silence.

Since March 1996, Thomas has been charged with two murders and 12 attempted murders, including the case dropped yesterday. He has been acquitted by four juries - twice for murder and twice for attempted murder - and has seen prosecutors drop the rest of the charges.

Nine of the attempted-murder charges were dropped as part of a January 1998 plea agreement that got Thomas a 15-year prison sentence, with 12 1/2 years suspended. As part of that agreement, he pleaded guilty to robbery and assault, unwittingly laying the groundwork for his conviction yesterday.

Thomas was arrested on the vest charges New Year's Day last year, months after the effective date of a new state law that makes it illegal for anyone convicted of a violent crime or drug trafficking to possess bulletproof body armor.

Wallner, the prosecutor, said later that he dropped the attempted-murder charge because he had uncooperative and unreliable witnesses who gave widely varying versions of what happened during a robbery and shooting at the Royal Casino in the 1500 block of Pennsylvania Ave. in September 2001.

"I had nothing to hang my hat on," he said, adding that he used the case as leverage to get a plea in the vest case.

Margaret Mead, Thomas' attorney, said, "They wanted to get Solothal and couldn't, so they stuck him with this."

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