In Judge Cavanaugh's court, the victims rule

August 10, 2005|By GREGORY KANE

BALTIMORE County Circuit Court's Patrick Cavanaugh is fast becoming my favorite judge in these parts.

When it comes to sentencing criminals, Cavanaugh puts his priority where it should be: on the victim.

When it comes to handing out harsh sentences when harsh sentences are needed, Cavanaugh doesn't flinch. He hands them out and lets the chips fall where they may.

In short, he's my kind of judge.

Cavanaugh was at it again last week, when he nailed Eric Thomas "Ock" Watkins with 100 years for his role in the death of 15-year-old Quartrina Johnson. Watkins deserved every second of the sentence.

Watkins was one of two men who murdered Johnson last summer. The other was Ogden E. "G-Wizz" Coleman. Both, according to testimony, acted on orders from Jason T. Richards. Watkins pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. Separate Baltimore County juries found Coleman and Richards guilty of first-degree murder in Johnson's death. Cavanaugh will sentence them in October.

If the sentence Cavanaugh handed Watkins is any indication, neither Coleman nor Richards should make plans for any coming-home-from-prison cookouts just yet.

"I don't see why you should get any more consideration than you gave Quartrina Johnson," Cavanaugh told Watkins.

There goes that darned Cavanaugh again, thinking of the victim.

He did the same thing this year, when he sentenced Matthew Timothy McCullough to 100 years for his role in a shooting at Randallstown High School in May of 2004. That shooting wounded four people, including William "Tippa" Thomas III, who was paralyzed.

Even as witness after witness came before Cavanaugh and urged him not to be too harsh on McCullough - he was young, misguided, had lost his father and deserved a second chance, they said - in the end, it came down to the victims for Cavanaugh.

"Who's going to give Tippa Thomas a second chance?" Cavanaugh asked. Cavanaugh then sentenced McCullough to 25 years on each of the four counts of assault he was charged with and ordered the sentences to run consecutively.

McCullough's fate should have been a message for Watkins. It was in the newspapers. But I get the impression that Watkins ain't exactly a newspaper-reading kind of guy. He walked into Cavanaugh's courtroom thinking he could mess with the man.

Not a bright idea. Although Richards said in a videotaped statement he gave to homicide detectives that he and Watkins constantly berated Coleman's intelligence by calling him "the dummy," the truth is none of these guys is Phi Beta Kappa material.

Watkins cut a deal to testify against Coleman and Richards that would have allowed part of his sentence to be suspended. He kept the part of the deal regarding Coleman, testifying against him last month.

But when it came to Richards, Watkins first tried to invoke the Fifth Amendment. When advised that the good ol' Fifth doesn't apply to geniuses who plead guilty, Watkins claimed he couldn't remember anything about the incident.

But somehow, somewhere, somebody must have pulled Watkins aside. I wasn't there, but I can imagine how the conversation went:

"Fool, do you know who you're dealing with? This is Judge Cavanaugh. He's the guy who sentenced that kid in the Randallstown High shooting to 100 years. This ringing any bells for you, Ock? Is your memory clearing up now, Ock?"

"Ock" did, indeed, try to go into Cavanaugh's court again and claim he was just a-rarin' to testify. But it was too late. Cavanaugh figured he had already lied. Allowing him to testify would have been what legal types call suborning perjury.

Any testifying Watkins does from this point might be to the good Lord from some penitentiary in Maryland.

Who knows, maybe he'll end up with McCullough as a cellmate and the two of them can chat about the fateful day they came across Judge Patrick Cavanaugh in a Baltimore County courtroom.

But as harsh as Cavanaugh was to Watkins, he showed he knows how to be merciful - if the defendant warrants mercy. He gave Michael X. Shelton two years for his involvement in Johnson's murder.

Shelton was at the Baltimore middle school where Coleman and Watkins killed the girl. He helped "dispose" of her body by burning it at a Baltimore County park. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy in Johnson's murder and, as part of a plea agreement, testified against both Coleman and Richards.

No pleading the Fifth Amendment. No memory losses. No trifling with one of the toughest judges around. Shelton did what he agreed to do. He'll be out in two years, perhaps sooner.

Maybe by that time, folks in Baltimore City will have figured out a way to get Cavanaugh on our circuit court.

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