Judge questions teen's life inside jail

Letter confronts perceived special treatment, asks why 19-year-old convicted of felony is not in prison

September 23, 2005|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,Sun reporter

A Baltimore Circuit Court judge is demanding that state prison officials explain why a teenager convicted of a felony is being given what appears to be preferential treatment by being allowed to serve his sentence in a city lockup rather than in a state prison.

Judge Evelyn O. Cannon did not oversee the case of Moshe Khaver, a 19-year-old who pleaded guilty last fall to running over and nearly killing another teen during a drug dispute. But in a blunt, three-page letter, Cannon confronts issues about race and privilege and asks whether those factors can translate into more lenient treatment for some.

Khaver, who is white, is the son of a local rabbi. His visitors in jail have included a rabbi who gave the benediction at Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s swearing-in ceremony and whom the governor appointed as a state tax judge.

The Khaver situation "plays directly into the very deep perception in this city that race is a major factor in the operation of our criminal justice system," Cannon wrote in her letter. "We simply cannot tolerate a judicial system that lends any credence to the perception that race determines how one is treated." The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, she wrote, "needs to explain loudly and clearly to all what, if anything, is different about Mr. Khaver."

Reached yesterday, the mother of the boy Khaver ran down said she, too, would like answers. Stephanie Massre sent a letter to Judge Kaye Allison, who sentenced Khaver, urging her to hold the department in contempt of court for failing to send Khaver to prison.

"There's something corrupt going on here, and I think there has got to be some kind of investigation," Massre said. "This feels like he's getting a slap on the wrist, and we're getting a slap in the face."

Khaver, who admitted to being a drug dealer in upper Park Heights and to using his father's Buick to run down a boy in a dispute over $20 of marijuana, has never seen the inside of a penitentiary.

Instead, he has been kept in a solitary cell at the Central Booking and Intake Center, used mostly to process people going through the initial stages of arrest.

The prosecutor in the case said Khaver eats kosher meals prepared by his mother. Mark Vernarelli, a state public safety spokesman, said the meals are cooked by a private company, delivered to the booking center by the mother and brought to Khaver by a chaplain.

"The commissioner deemed it a `reasonable and appropriate' accommodation," according to a statement from Vernarelli. Also, internal records show that Khaver has enjoyed a lenient visitation policy, but the spokesman said he is under the same limitations as a prison inmate.

Notations in Khaver's records indicated he was to be kept in protective custody, locked in his cell for 22 hours a day and not moved without the permission of a high-level official in the Division of Pretrial Detention and Services.

Yesterday, Khaver was still being held at Central Booking. Vernarelli said the notation preventing Khaver's transfer to the Division of Correction has been removed.

A year after Khaver was charged with nearly killing Eddie Massre, Ehrlich - unaware of the criminal charges - appointed him to a state juvenile justice advisory council. Khaver violated his home detention to attend his first council meeting, and he has since been removed.

The rabbi who gave Ehrlich's benediction, Sander Goldberg, had recommended Khaver for the council. Khaver's father is Rabbi Reuben Khaver. Goldberg has said that none of Khaver's advocates have anything to do with his confinement situation.

Khaver's lawyer, Howard L. Cardin, has said his client is being kept in Central Booking because he is in danger, and that his treatment is in no way preferential.

Vernarelli first said Khaver is at Central Booking because of his kosher needs and later said it is because he is serving "such a short sentence" and is one of about 45 sentenced inmates at the pretrial facility. The commissioner of Pretrial Detention and Services said Central Booking normally only allows inmates with a sentence of six months or less to serve their terms there.

The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services has wide discretion when deciding where to place inmates, but the commissioner said it is "not the normal course of business" to keep someone serving a five-year sentence in a pretrial facility.

Allison made it clear when she sentenced Khaver last November that, to her, the case was "not different from those this court sees every day: young men making very poor decisions in the course of drug transactions."

She said her sentence for Khaver for his guilty plea to first-degree assault was "not dissimilar" to those she has given defendants in similar cases

Cannon noted her fellow judge's effort to treat Khaver as she would any other defendant in her letter to corrections officials, which is dated Sept. 16. The Department of Public Safety, Cannon wrote, "appears to have reached a different conclusion."

Cannon, 55, has been on the bench since 1996 and is a former chief of litigation for the state attorney general's office, where in the mid-1990s she defended a University of Maryland minority scholarship program.

She declined to comment yesterday, saying, "I'd like to wait and see what they have to say first."

Massre, who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., said she received an anonymous phone call about a month ago alerting her to the situation. She mailed her letter to Allison yesterday.

Massre wrote: "I was under the impression that when someone is sentenced to prison he went to prison. Am I confused or are the people who have been ordered by your court?"

Massre is asking Allison to use her "discretionary powers" to send Khaver to prison. Allowing Khaver to remain in Central Booking, Massre wrote, "is similar to pouring salt on the wounds of the victims."

julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com.

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