Man convicted of destroying signs supporting Bush, Cheney

Howard County had spate of pre-election vandalism

Ellicott City

February 18, 2005|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

A man caught using a bayonet to cut up two large Bush-Cheney signs in Ellicott City during a spate of political-sign vandalism last fall was convicted of property destruction yesterday by Howard County District Judge Neil Edward Axel. Two other charges were dismissed.

Peter Lizon, 31, was given a year's probation, and ordered to pay $328.04 in restitution to the Howard County Republican Party and provide 32 hours of community service. Axel said that the 24 hours Lizon spent in jail after his arrest Oct. 1 was "significant punishment" and refused prosecutor Leigh Kessler's request for more jail time.

Several incidents of sign destruction, including a Bush sign burned in western Howard and a bullet fired into the home of a Democratic activist, put the county on edge before the November election. In response, county police began watching several of the signs, including the ones near Rogers Avenue in front of a vacant supermarket.

Police watched as a minivan approached and stopped behind the signs about 4:45 p.m. Oct. 1, Detective Edward Upton testified. Lizon and his wife got out, and Peter Lizon retrieved gloves and a bayonet and began cutting out the centers of the two 4-by-8-foot panels set in a "V" shape, police said, while his wife appeared to keep a lookout. Officers, who were watching from both sides of U.S. 40, closed in and arrested the pair.

"It did have an impact on the community and the political process," Axel said. The incident "reflects an escalation in society about the way campaigns are being conducted. What's getting lost is the message," he said.

Axel dismissed a weapons charge, reasoning that the bayonet was being used as a tool and that Lizon had no intent to use it as a weapon. The judge also dismissed a conspiracy charge, ruling that he had a reasonable doubt that Lizon's wife, Stephanie Lizon, conspired with him.

Lizon's attorney, Jonathon L. Katz, argued for dismissal of all the charges on grounds that the signs had no value and that the prosecutor had not proved that the landowner had given permission for them to be there.

At sentencing, Katz said, "We're at a time of war here. People who oppose the war and President Bush are very angry and upset." That does not justify Lizon's actions, he said.

After his conviction, Lizon said, "I realize I shouldn't have damaged the signs."

Lizon said he is channeling his political energies into "a little more creative and enlightened outlets" by working with Habitat for Humanity.

He faces a marijuana charge in Baltimore County, his attorney said, because two plants were discovered in his former Randallstown apartment by police who searched it while he and his wife were in jail.

Stephanie Lizon, 35, faces trial March 22 on property-destruction charges.

Her lawyer, Mark I. Goldstone, criticized county police for their use of detectives to stake out the signs and investigate the Lizons after their arrest.

"It's like using a 500-pound sledgehammer to slay a gnat," he said.

Howard Police Chief Wayne Livesay said that the effort was justified and that the stakeout produced results after less than an hour.

"We have a responsibility to protect people's freedom of speech and their property," Livesay said.

Howard County Republican Chairman Howard M. Rensin said he was thankful for law enforcement's "many hours" of work on the cases.

"This verdict helps to send a message that political disputes should be settled in the ballot box and nowhere else," he said.

The Lizons live in Northern Virginia with Stephanie Lizon's father, whom Katz identified as a Bush appointee to a federal government job.

Another man, Corey Robert Cooke of Ellicott City, was arrested Sept. 24 after a Bush sign on U.S. 40 was knocked down. He pleaded guilty Dec. 1 and got a 30-day suspended sentence, one year's probation and 32 hours of community service, also from Axel.

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