Wheeler due to be released today

Highlandtown man jailed since July 1 to plead guilty in gunpowder case

October 29, 2003|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

An alleged member of a white supremacist group who is accused of having 80 pounds of gunpowder improperly stored in his Southeast Baltimore rowhouse is expected to plead guilty today in city Circuit Court to misdemeanor charges and then go home, his lawyer said.

Lovell Wheeler, 61 years old and in failing health, has called himself a "political prisoner" because he has been held in jail - first on $2 million bail and then without any bail - since his arrest July 1. He has no criminal history.

Wheeler's lawyer, Brian G. Thompson, said yesterday that he worked out an agreement with prosecutors that calls for Wheeler to receive a suspended five-year sentence, as well as three years of probation, in exchange for pleading guilty to reckless endangerment, possession of more than 5 pounds of gunpowder and improper storage of gunpowder.

Soon after Wheeler's arrest, prosecutors argued that he should be held without bail, noting the danger posed by the gunpowder and ammunition in his house.

The state's attorney's office had no comment yesterday.

"Perhaps he was being incarcerated for his political beliefs," Thompson said. "As repugnant as they may be, we don't keep people in jail for their political beliefs."

Police said they raided the house in the 500 block of S. East Ave. after receiving a tip that Wheeler - who investigators said is a member of the neo-Nazi group National Alliance - was making weapons in his basement. The FBI said last year that the National Alliance was "a continuing terrorist threat."

Wheeler has denied allegations that he belonged to the National Alliance, although his wife, Elizabeth, is a member and hosts an Internet radio show called Grandmother Elizabeth's Reading Hour for White Children.

Elizabeth Wheeler joined the National Alliance after being robbed by a black man several years ago, her husband said.

After one year of probation, he is expected to be placed on probation before judgment, meaning he will have a clean criminal record, Thompson said. If convicted, he could have faced up to six years in prison.

Thompson, who is representing Wheeler on a pro bono basis, said it was "outrageous" that Wheeler has been held without bail. He contends that people charged with violent crimes are often released on moderate bails. Thompson said that Wheeler suffers from heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

He was arrested after detectives and federal agents searched his Highlandtown house and found about 80 pounds of improperly stored gunpowder, 14 rifles, eight handguns, about 100 other firearms in various stages of assembly and thousands of rounds of ammunition. The gunpowder was stored in bleach bottles, antifreeze bottles and paint-thinner cans.

Detectives also seized racist and white supremacist literature from his home and the plastics company where he worked.

Wheeler was not charged with any firearms violations because he was not prohibited from owning guns or munitions, prosecutors said.

He will not be permitted to possess a firearm for the three years he is on probation, Thompson said, but will be free to do so when his probation ends.

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