August 23, 2007

Court upholds three convictions in firebombing of activist's home

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld yesterday the convictions of three men who firebombed the North Baltimore home of community activist Edna McAbier in January 2005 in an effort to prevent her from complaining to police about drug dealers in the Harwood neighborhood.

Attorneys for the three - ringleader Terrence Smith along with Richard Royal and Nakie Harris - had argued that the case should have remained in state court because they said the law requires prosecutors to show the victim planned to call federal authorities about the harassment. McAbier had complained to city police.

But the appeals court ruled that because McAbier was notifying authorities about a crime that falls under federal jurisdiction, it did not matter to whom she had complained. "So long as the information the defendant seeks to suppress actually relates to the commission or possible commission of a federal offense, the federal nexus requirement is established," the court ruled.

The court also ruled it was proper for the judge to allow jurors to watch a videotape of Smith talking about the dangers of cooperating with police.

The ruling keeps intact 60-year sentences for Royal and Harris but vacates the 80-year sentence for Smith and sends it back to U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz for reconsideration. The sentence exceeded guidelines, and the court's ruling noted uncertainty in the wake of federal sentencing guidelines being made advisory instead of mandatory.

But the appeals court said, "In so doing, we make no comment on the reasonableness of the sentence imposed."

In all, eight defendants were convicted in the case that raised concerns about witness intimidation and pitted a community resident against a violent drug gang. Even after the convictions, McAbier left the neighborhood, saying it was still unsafe for her.

Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein issued a statement praising the court's decision. "It is particularly significant that the court found that there is a strong federal interest in fighting witness intimidation," he said.

Baltimore County

: White Marsh

Bridge over I-95 completed early

The Maryland Transportation Authority announced yesterday that it has completed construction of a new bridge carrying Joppa Road over Interstate 95 in Baltimore County, three months ahead of schedule.

Replacement of the bridge is part of the project adding four new express toll lanes - two northbound and two southbound - to I-95 in the stretch between the Beltway and White Marsh.

The authority said the new bridge is 56 feet longer than the one it replaced to accommodate the added lanes, which will carry variable tolls based on the level of congestion.

Construction began last year under a $14.6 million contract that includes replacement of the nearby Cowenton Avenue bridge. That structure is expected to be completed this fall by Joseph B. Fay Construction Co. of Russellton, Pa.

Michael Dresser


Zoning map process workshop tonight

North County Preservation, a conservation group, and the Baltimore County Department of Planning are presenting a workshop tonight to provide guidance to neighborhood groups about the comprehensive zoning map process.

For the first time, information about applications for zoning changes will be available on the county's Web site. Jeff Mayhew and Jessie Bialek, from the planning department, are scheduled to speak to the group about how to review the online applications.

David Sides, manager of Towson University's Center for Geographic Information Sciences, who created a CZMP informational system for neighborhood groups, will also demonstrate how to use that system to identify properties that may be important in the rezoning process, which takes place once every four years.

The workshop begins at 7 p.m. at the Cockeysville Library, 9833 Greenside Drive.

Information: www.northcountypreservation.org.

Montgomery Co.

: Olney

Thousands to get medical firm rebate

Several thousand patients of an Olney medical practice can expect a refund of an annual office surcharge, which the Maryland attorney general's office says violated state law.

Montgomery Internal Medicine Associates had charged about 5,000 patients and patient families a total of $144,000 in administrative fees, starting in 2005, even though Medicare and other insurers barred that in their contracts, Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, said yesterday.

Montgomery Internal Medicine Associates denied wrongdoing. As part of the settlement, it agreed not to try to collect those fees from patients whose insurers prohibit it.

Andrea F. Siegel

Harford County

: Havre de Grace

Incendiary device damages library

The Havre de Grace library branch was damaged early yesterday morning when an incendiary device was thrown through a window, sparking a small fire, officials said.

Deputy State Fire Marshal W. Faron Taylor said in a statement that the incident occurred about 3 a.m. at the one-story, brick library in the 100 block of N. Union Ave.

Firefighters from the Susquehanna Hose Company put out the fire in a few minutes, Taylor said, and damage was estimated at $5,000. Harford County library officials said the branch will be closed until 10 a.m. tomorrow to allow for cleanup.

Havre de Grace police, Maryland State Police and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are investigating.

Anyone with information is urged to call the state fire marshal's arson hot line at 800-492-7529.

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