A Southwest Baltimore man who had been charged in a neighborhood dispute - and then paid two men $50 apiece to club the witness with broken table legs to prevent him from testifying - pleaded guilty yesterday to assault and witness-intimidation charges.
Joseph John DiAngelo Jr., 52, was sentenced by Baltimore Circuit Judge Sylvester B. Cox to 15 years in prison. One of the men DiAngelo hired was fatally injured during the home-invasion-style attack, likely when residents sat on his chest. The other man, William Morton Jr., pleaded guilty in the fall and is to be sentenced this month to five years in prison under a plea agreement.
Although Baltimore has seen multiple examples of witness intimidation, ranging from "Stop Snitching" T-shirts in the courtroom to brazen shootings of key witnesses in murder and drug trials, the DiAngelo case was, for prosecutors, a sign of how pervasive witness intimidation has become in the city.
Such cases typically involve drugs. But DiAngelo and Vincent Harmon, the witness who was assaulted, simply had a spat over roof repairs on a duplex their families own in Morrell Park. The witness intimidation stemmed from a misdemeanor second-degree assault charge.
DiAngelo's mother and Harmon are neighbors on Sexton Street. DiAngelo visited frequently and helped his mother with repairs, prosecutors said.
According to prosecutors, DiAngelo and Harmon had a continuing dispute over roof repairs on the duplex and were both working Nov. 15, 2004, when DiAngelo pulled a knife and threatened to chase Harmon off the roof. Harmon filed second-degree assault charges.
About 5 p.m. Feb. 27, prosecutors said, DiAngelo hired Morton and Ronald Carter and drove them to Harmon's rowhouse.
DiAngelo waited in his truck while the other two forced their way inside, beat Harmon with the table legs and corralled his family into the kitchen. Harmon made his way to his second-floor bedroom in search of his rifle.
Morton ran outside and hopped into the truck, but Harmon continued to fight Carter. When police arrived, the truck sped away, and officers discovered Carter was having trouble breathing. He was taken to Maryland Shock Trauma Center and died a short time later.
Morton pleaded guilty to burglary and witness-intimidation charges. As part of DiAngelo's plea deal, prosecutors dropped the original assault charge.
Witness intimidation at the time of the assault on Harmon was a misdemeanor carrying a maximum prison term of five years. The law has since been changed to make some instances of witness intimidation punishable by 20 years in prison, but only when the underlying crime is a felony, which it was not in DiAngelo's case.