Man pleads guilty in Columbia stabbing

Teen was critically injured as drug deal led to assault

August 29, 2008|By Tyeesha Dixon | Tyeesha Dixon,tyeesha.dixon@baltsun.com

A Howard County man pleaded guilty yesterday to attempted second-degree murder in the stabbing of a teenager after a drug deal went sour outside a Columbia mall this year.

Bernardo Leconte, 18, of Columbia, could face 30 years in prison. However, prosecutors recommended a sentence of 20 years, with all but 15 suspended. State sentencing guidelines suggest a sentence of five to 12 years.

The near-fatal stabbing, which occurred on a weekday afternoon when the mall bustled with shoppers, shocked Columbia residents unaccustomed to violent crime in the Town Center. The crime prompted the mall operator, General Growth Properties, to launch a review of security measures.

According to prosecutors and witness testimony, 17-year-old Julian Lichtenstein had arranged to sell marijuana to Leconte and a co-defendant in the case, Cordero Dante Taylor, at the Mall in Columbia on Jan. 8.

After meeting outside the J.C. Penney department store around 4:30 p.m., Leconte bickered with Lichtenstein over the quality of the drugs. Prosecutors said that after Leconte pulled a knife, Lichtenstein punched him in the face as Taylor, a 17-year-old resident of Prince George's County, stood nearby.

Leconte stabbed Lichtenstein seven times with the serrated blade, prosecutors said, before he and Taylor fled. Lichtenstein went into J.C. Penney to ask for help and collapsed on the floor.

Lichtenstein was flown to Maryland Shock Trauma in critical condition, having lost a fourth of one of his kidneys. At Taylor's trial in July, the medic who responded to the scene testified that Lichtenstein had turned blue and looked as if he were going to die. The Pikesville resident was hospitalized for about a month, undergoing several surgeries, prosecutors said.

Police found Leconte and Taylor nearby shortly after the stabbing. Leconte was hiding in an apartment stairwell on Stevens Forest Road in Columbia. Police also found a small bag of marijuana and about $300, prosecutors said.

In July, Taylor was convicted of first-degree assault for aiding in the stabbing but was found not guilty of attempted murder. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison this month.

Ruling in that case, Howard County Circuit Judge Richard Bernhardt concluded that even though Taylor did not stab Lichtenstein during the scuffle, he hit him to keep him from escaping. Under Maryland law, a person who aids and abets an assault is considered as responsible as the person who commits it.

Bernhardt also said the ordeal was particularly disturbing because it happened in a public place in broad daylight. The judge also made mention of three younger boys who were called as witnesses because they were riding their bikes to the mall and saw the confrontation. Bernhardt said they should not have been subjected to such violence, especially at a community gathering place such as the mall.

Yesterday's proceeding was scheduled as a pre-trial motions hearing. But the attorneys instead presented the plea agreement when they entered the courtroom. Sentencing for Leconte is scheduled for Nov. 14.

Lichtenstein's parents attended yesterday's hearing but declined to comment on the plea.

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