A Fish Tale Too Good To Be True?

CRIME BEAT

Lawyer Made Deal, Pulled Gun From Creek, But Story Of Leniency Has Inconsistencies

August 30, 2009|By PETER HERMANN

Charles B. Bailey of Hagerstown has a tale to tell, and I agree it's a tale worth telling.

He teased it in an e-mail as "A (feel) good fish story," and a good fish story usually says more about the person doing the telling than the story being told.

Bailey's story has a hero (himself), described as a dedicated public defender who used a magnet tied to a string to retrieve a revolver that his client had thrown into Antietam Creek after committing an armed robbery.

Bailey said he went to extraordinary lengths to get his client a lighter sentence than was given his accomplice, a deal that he said involved getting the weapon off the street.

His client - rewarded for telling the truth about the gun but nevertheless guilty of holding up the assistant manager of a Dollar Tree store at gunpoint - got his wish. He was sent to the local jail for 18 months instead of what Bailey said would have been a four-year stint in state prison for armed robbery.

The story is no doubt entertaining, and Bailey sprinkled his e-mail with enticing tidbits that included borrowing a kayak from a deputy prosecutor, and of police officers and prosecutors laughing at him from the riverbank and taking bets with the accused man's father on whether the gun could be fished out.

Trouble is, Bailey stopped short of full disclosure when talking with me (he refused to name his client, even though the young man had pleaded guilty in open court), and he disclosed too much in his e-mail to the newspaper (details of secret plea negotiations with the prosecutor).

Washington County Assistant State's Attorney Viki Pauler did not take kindly to Bailey's recounting their conversation that led to the guilty pleas for the two men. She declined to discuss the case and called Bailey's conduct "grossly unethical."

Washington County State's Attorney Charles Strong said he found Bailey's e-mail nothing more than "self-serving, personal aggrandizement."

I grew suspicious when Bailey refused (and finally hung up the telephone in mid-conversation) to give me the name of his client, which would enable me to review the court file, find more people to talk to and add layers and texture to this seemingly entertaining fish tale.

This might very well be a good story for Bailey and his client, but good news for some people isn't necessarily good news for others. Does the man who had a revolver shoved in his face think it's fair that the gunman got only 18 months in jail? How about the accomplice who was supposedly going to get the tougher end of the deal even though he didn't touch the gun?

Unfortunately, the lawyer for the accomplice declined to comment, and I couldn't reach the robbery victim, who no longer works at the discount store.

A single call to the Hagerstown Police Department secured a copy of the 15-page report from December 2008 that in excruciating detail outlines a stunning robbery plot hatched by a 16-year-old girl who, along with friends, conspired to rob her father at gunpoint.

The girl distracted her dad, the assistant store manger, as one of her friends climbed into the back of her father's Jeep Wrangler and waited for him to come out.

When James Michael Russell got into his car with a bag of money, "the suspect sat up and pointed a revolver at him with his right hand and said, 'Gimmie the money or I'll kill you,' " police said.

The gunman grabbed the bag and ran to a getaway car occupied by the girl and another friend. Police arrested them and a fourth person a few days later.

Court documents identify the man holding the six-shot .38 Special, with a broken trigger and no bullets, as Bailey's client, Justin Lee Clark, who was then 18 years old and living in Boonsboro. He and the other main accomplice, Dustin Eugene Boward, also 18, of Hagerstown, were each charged with armed robbery, robbery, assault and using a handgun in the commission of a felony. The girl was handed over to juvenile authorities, and the fourth person was charged with conspiracy.

In his e-mail, Bailey said the two primary suspects (identified by police as Clark and Boward) wanted to plead guilty but that each gave a different account of where they had hidden the gun. The prosecutor promised leniency to the one who gave up the weapon.

Bailey's client said the gun was in the creek but failed a lie-detector test. He said the other man told prosecutors the gun was under a truck at a farm, and he passed the lie-detector test. But the gun wasn't under the truck, and prosecutors declined to search further.

Bailey said he went fishing in the creek July 3.

"I found the pistol and my man got the deal," Bailey said in his e-mail.

Indeed, court records show that on July 30, prosecutors dropped more serious charges dealing with armed robbery and weapons violations, and allowed Clark to plead guilty to a single count of robbery. He was sentenced to 18 months in jail.

So Bailey's client did apparently get a relatively easy sentence for revealing the hidden gun (the true part of the story). But remember that the lawyer also had suggested that his efforts to fish out the gun had helped his client got a better deal than Boward, who had lied about the weapon.

The catch is that court records show that prosecutors dropped the most serious gun and armed robbery charges against Boward as well, and that he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit armed robbery, a lesser charge than that to which Clark agreed.

And when did Boward, who is awaiting sentencing, cop his plea?

On June 30, three days before Bailey found the gun in the creek.

I'd love an explanation, but Bailey isn't seeking publicity anymore and hasn't returned my phone calls. The outcome seems to undercut at least one central point of the fish tale, a tale that now seems, if not fishy, at least a bit murky.

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