Baltimore County Digest

January 09, 2008

Two teens sentenced in acid case

Two teenagers accused of pouring industrial-strength drain cleaner on playground equipment in Middle River were ordered yesterday to serve a year of home detention and to complete 500 hours each of community service at Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

The 17-year-old boys were also ordered to write a letter to the family of the toddler who was severely burned after going down a slide doused in the acid.

"This is a crime that shocks the conscience," said prosecutor Robin S. Coffin. She initially sought to try the case in adult court, where the boys could have faced prison terms for the assault charges of which they were found delinquent in juvenile court.

Payton Potochney suffered second- and third-degree chemical burns to both legs and his lower back in April after going down a slide at a playground at Victory Villa Elementary School.

The 3-year-old spent months in the hospital and returns to his doctor every few weeks.

Circuit Judge Timothy J. Martin found the teenagers delinquent last month - the juvenile equivalent of a conviction in adult court - of assaulting the toddler and of reckless endangerment, breaking and entering and theft.

The Sun is not identifying the boys because they were charged as juveniles.

The boys have maintained that they poured the drain cleaner on only the sliding board to see whether the acid would melt plastic, defense attorney Henry J. Wegrocki said.

"They've never wavered from that, but the judge clearly did not believe that at all," the defense attorney said. Trial testimony revealed that the Environmental Protection Agency found the chemical cleaner all over the playground equipment, including on metal monkey bars.

The judge's home detention order means that the boys will be allowed to leave their family's houses only for school, work and religious activities.

Martin also directed the teenagers to reimburse the county about $1,500 to pay for a door and a window, which were damaged when the teenagers broke into the school to steal the drain cleaner.

Jennifer McMenamin

Guilty plea

Killer's request for change denied

A county judge has denied a request from a former death-row inmate to withdraw his guilty plea in the murder and sexual abuse of a Carroll County teenager, clearing the way for prosecutors to proceed with a sentencing hearing for the convicted killer.

John A. Miller IV, 35, was originally sentenced to death for the 1998 killing of Shen Poehlman, 17, an honors student, tennis champion and prom queen. But four years later, the Court of Appeals overturned the sentence and granted him a new sentencing hearing.

County prosecutors reached a plea agreement in August with Miller that would spare him the death penalty. But the defendant asked a judge last month to allow him to withdraw that plea, arguing that his lawyers "tricked" him into accepting prosecutors' offer and asking the judge to appoint new counsel to represent him.

At a hearing Monday, Circuit Judge Lawrence R. Daniels denied Miller's request to withdraw the plea.

"The judge found there was no credence to Mr. Miller's claims of any improper conduct by his counsel," said prosecutor Robin S. Coffin.

Attorney F. Spencer Gordon represented Miller on Monday.

"There was no evidence that anybody really tried to trick him," Gordon said. "But what it came down to was ... John could not have understood the rights he was giving up [in the plea agreement] because the way it was presented to him was so confusing."

Lawyers are to meet today to set a new sentencing date. Miller will face a maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Poehlman was killed July 28, 1998, after Miller lured her to his Reisterstown apartment with the false promise of a baby-sitting job. A jury convicted him of first-degree murder, a first-degree sexual offense, robbery and false imprisonment.

Jennifer McMenamin

Owings Mills

Police arrest man in assault, robbery

County police arrested a suspect last night in the robbery and assault of a 62-year-old woman at her home yesterday afternoon.

The man forced a woman into her home in the first block of Preakness Court in the Owings Mills area while she was unloading groceries and assaulted her, police said.

The man had a handgun but did not shoot, police said in a news release, but the woman was injured as she struggled with the man. She escaped out the back door.

Police said the man stole her car keys and drove off in her car. Police found the car on Ritters Lane, and that led investigators to the suspect, said police spokesman Bill Toohey.

Perry Hall

Accident victim is identified

A woman crossing Joppa Road in Perry Hall was struck Monday night by a sport utility vehicle and killed, county police said yesterday.

The victim was identified as Lillian Mae Hare, 74, of the 3900 block of E. Joppa Road.

She was crossing the busy road near her home and Hines Road about 6:30 p.m. Monday when she was hit by a 2003 Chevrolet Trailblazer, said Bill Toohey, a police spokesman.

The SUV driver, 45, was not charged, Toohey said.

Laura Barnhardt

Events or news items for the Digest can be submitted to baltco.news@baltsun.com.

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