The name was too familiar to Baltimore prosecutors. They had sent a man named Robert Loney to prison in 2004 for five years without the possibility of parole. Yet in May, someone with the same name and description drew the city police SWAT team to his neighborhood as he tried to avoid arrest on suspicion of attempted murder.
It turned out to be the same man, and the standoff drew attention to the fact that five years without parole, the mandatory sentence for a convicted felon in possession of a handgun, does not mean an offender will spend five years in prison.
Although those inmates cannot be paroled, they can leave prison early - sometimes years early - because of "diminution credits" for good behavior and participation in work and education.
City officials are backing a bill being considered by the General Assembly that would reduce the number of credits for which such gun offenders are eligible by 300 days, meaning they would serve at least three years and two months. Now, an inmate sentenced to five years without parole can be released after as little as 2 1/2 years.
Mayor Sheila Dixon, Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III and the city's top gun-crimes prosecutor plan to testify in favor of the legislation today before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Subcommittee. The House of Delegates is considering a similar measure.
Bealefeld said city crime statistics prove that Baltimore's focus on gun crimes and illegal guns is wise. Of 135 people charged with murder last year, about half had prior gun offenses, he said.
"To me, this means that bad guys with guns come out of jail and get guns again," he said.
In prison, inmates convicted of violent crimes are eligible for fewer diminution credits than are nonviolent offenders, but being a felon in possession of a handgun is not considered a violent crime in Maryland. The Senate bill would change only the credit calculation. It would not reclassify the crime.
Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy said her office would prefer to reclassify the gun offense, but she said the General Assembly is reluctant to add crimes to the list of violent offenses. It took about a decade of lobbying before the legislature classified first-degree child abuse as a violent crime, she said.
Jessamy said the Senate bill is "another way of trying to get some change."
"This will have an effect on public safety by keeping individuals convicted of what I consider to be violent crime behind bars longer," said Jessamy, who plans to attend today's hearing.
Douglas Ludwig, chief of the firearms unit in Jessamy's office, is scheduled to testify.
In Maryland, release dates are calculated through a complex formula that even experienced prosecutors can have trouble understanding.
David R. Blumberg, chairman of the parole commission who has given lectures on diminution credits, said nonviolent offenders typically earn 15 to 20 days off their sentences every month and that violent offenders typically earn about 10 to 15 days off each month.
By law, no inmate can earn more than 20 days of diminution credits each month.
"We don't have truth in sentencing in Maryland," Jessamy said. "If we did, something like this wouldn't be as important."