Jerrod Rowlett is counted among Baltimore's worst criminals. He's racked up dozens of arrests in his 25 years, including at least four murder charges (one of which is still pending). He has a handful of gun, drug and assault convictions, and he's classified as a "violent repeat offender" by the state.
He's also never served any significant time.
But he's about to.
After cutting Rowlett a generous break in 2007, setting him free under probation via a plea deal on assault and drug charges, Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Lynn Stewart ruled Thursday that he would have to serve the rest of his previously suspended 15-year sentence because he violated probation. Rowlett twice failed to check in via telephone with his supervising officer.
FOR THE RECORD - An article in Friday's editions incorrectly stated the charges Jerrod Rowlett, 25, has faced. He has had at least four attempted first-degree murder charges in Baltimore Circuit Court - not four murder charges.
The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.
"Probation is a matter of grace, not [a] right," Stewart said.
The decision to pursue the seemingly minor infraction was part of a relatively new crime-fighting strategy for the state, which thus far hasn't been able to hold Rowlett. He has been acquitted of murder and assault charges at trial, had multiple cases dismissed and received suspended sentences more often than not.
So law enforcement agencies turned to something they could get him on, no matter how small, and hoped the judge would revoke the sentence suspension.
"He poses a major threat to the citizens of Baltimore," said Assistant State's Attorney Nancy Olin.
Some have criticized the tactic as a kind of resentencing for the original crimes or a way for prosecutors to win significant jail time without trying cases. Prosecutors offer freedom now in exchange for a guilty plea, and a long sentence later if certain criteria - holding a job, attending school, staying sober, checking in over the phone and in person - aren't met.
"The defendant was probably told it's going to be rough to make this probation," Stewart said, and "he might not want to do it."
Rowlett said he was innocent of the drug charge but wanted to go home, so he pleaded guilty.
His stepfather was in court Thursday. He told the judge that his son has made mistakes but was trying to turn his life around. Rowlett was taking classes, had gotten - and been laid off from - his first job and has custody of his 5-year-old child.
Rowlett, too, said he was trying to do things right. He also said he was being unfairly targeted. In a letter to the judge, he said police were trying to frame him. And in court, he outlined several instances where he said officers harassed him, which the judge said she would take into consideration.
Rowlett also asked for mercy, saying this was just about two phone calls, which Stewart didn't accept.
She reminded him of his pending murder charge and the facts of the cases he pleaded guilty to: dealing heroin on the 1800 block of Rutland Ave., shooting a person several times on North Wolfe Street. The victim was in the hospital for at least eight months.
"The defendant is not here because he missed two phone calls. The defendant is here because he violated probation," Stewart said. She acknowledged that her original sentence was "very light" and surmised that Rowlett's tremendous family support at the time must have contributed to it. Then she sentenced him to 14 years, six months and eight days in prison on each charge, to run concurrently.
Rowlett turned to his girlfriend, who was sitting in the courtroom, and shrugged, mouthing, "Told ya." He expected no less.
"Maybe this is a cautionary tale why they shouldn't take long, suspended sentences," Rowlett's attorney, Ivan Bates, said after the hearing. "If you're innocent, you should go to trial."