Security takes no chances as killer arrives in court


A police helicopter hovered over the district courthouse in Towson yesterday morning as visitors to the building endured extra-close screening, and a police SWAT team looked on.

The reason for the vigilance was not a bomb threat but a court appearance by Dontay Carter, a convicted killer whose criminal exploits as a teenager - including murder, kidnappings, identity theft and a daring daylight escape from a downtown Baltimore courthouse - rocked the state. Carter, now incarcerated in a Western Maryland prison, was in court yesterday not as a defendant but as a witness in a civil suit filed by another convicted killer whose rap sheet also includes a successful prison escape.

Wary that the small-claims lawsuit could be an excuse to try another escape, authorities took no chances. A police motorcade escorted the two prisoners to Towson, while SWAT team members with assault rifles stood guard inside the courtroom - which was closed to the public.

"There was some concern about an escape attempt, and we decided to nip that in the bud," said Mike Vach, the administrative clerk of the county district court system. "Since they are very, very, very bad people and we have retired police as our bailiffs, we decided we wanted some additional security."

Police closed off access to the alley behind the courthouse for the duration of the trial and required everyone entering the building to go through metal detectors and have their bags scanned - including the court personnel and attorneys who are typically waved through after flashing ID cards, Vach said.

"We didn't want anything to happen on our watch," he added. "It was very exciting."

Derek B. Yarmis, an attorney representing the company sued by inmate Ja'Von M. Bloom, said he has never seen anything like the security measures taken for the half-hour hearing.

Bloom, 45, who is also known as Gregory L. Lawrence, escaped the state prison in Jessup in 1999 by climbing two security fences. He arrived yesterday in Courtroom No. 3 with his ankles shackled, his wrists cuffed to a waist chain and his hands encased in black mitts, Yarmis said. Besides the SWAT officers, the courtroom security detail included an officer with a police dog, two correctional guards, a courthouse bailiff and a major with the Division of Correction, Yarmis said.

Meanwhile, Carter, whose 33rd birthday was yesterday, sat in a holding cell and never even made it into the courtroom.

Sentenced in June 1993 to life without the possibility of parole plus a consecutive life sentence and another 190 years, Carter was convicted of murder, kidnapping and attempted murder for a 1992 string of downtown kidnappings of middle-class men. He escaped from custody in January 1993 by leaping out a window of a second-floor bathroom in Circuit Judge John Prevas' chambers in Baltimore's main courthouse, prompting one of the largest manhunts in city history during his 28 hours of freedom.

And in November 1993, Maryland upgraded its system for issuing driver's licenses after discovering how easily Carter had obtained a replacement license in the name of the man he murdered. Using the license and the man's credit cards, he eluded police for days after the killing.

Priscilla Doggett, a spokeswoman for the state Division of Correction, said that it was the men's histories of escape that prompted concern for yesterday's transport.

On April 5, Assistant Attorney General Diane C. Wellbrock wrote a letter to the administrative judge of Baltimore County District Court, alerting her to state officials' concerns that the prisoners "may be conspiring to attempt an escape during their transport to or from the court proceeding or during the court proceeding."

Wellbrock noted in her letter that both men "are housed at the Western Correctional Institution in the same housing unit, on the same tier and only a few cells from each other."

She characterized the lawsuit as "suspicious," noted that the attorney for Agency Service Inc., the company named in Bloom's lawsuit, "firmly believes that the ... case is one of fabrication and frivolous in nature," and requested that the administrative judge postpone the hearing or, "in the alternative, maintain a high-security-alert status on the date of the hearing."

Although authorities still do not know whether Bloom and Carter were planning anything, the court file in the case includes three requests from the prisoners to ensure that court orders were issued to have them transported to the hearing. The one-page lawsuit is accompanied by a handwritten letter wishing the court clerk a happy New Year and noting that the missive was written on recycled paper "to save the lives of trees."

The inmates' day in court ended abruptly, however, after the company being sued presented a witness who refuted the basis of Bloom's claim that he was owed $500. Bloom promptly withdrew his suit, and District Judge Bruce S. Lamdin dismissed it "with prejudice" - legalese for "don't bring this back."

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