Last of three defendants sentenced in attack on fisherman at city park

Watson given 85-year prison term, with all but 10 suspended, in racially charged case

February 09, 2011|By Nick Madigan, The Baltimore Sun

The last of three white men accused of attacking a black fisherman in 2009 was given an 85-year prison sentence Wednesday, with all but 10 years suspended.

Zachary D. Watson, 19, averted a trial by pleading guilty to four charges — armed carjacking, robbery with a deadly weapon, conspiracy to commit assault and committing a hate crime — with the understanding that he would receive a limited term of incarceration.

But Baltimore Circuit Judge Lynn K. Stewart sternly warned Watson that she would make sure he serves the remaining 75 years of the sentence if he commits any offenses during a five-year probationary period after his release. "I'll be around a long time," the judge said, "so when he finishes I'll be right here."

The attack on James Privott, who was 76 at the time, drew national attention when it became clear from police reports that his assailants had spewed racial invective against him. Privott was battered with a foot-long hammer, punched and kicked as he packed his car after a late-night fishing outing on Aug. 18, 2009, in Fort Armistead Park. He told detectives that, as far as he could tell, the attack was perpetrated by three men, later identified by police as Watson and his friends Calvin E. Lockner, 29, and Emmanuel Miller, 17.

They stole his wallet and his car and went on a marijuana-stoked joy ride, prosecutors said, leaving Privott for dead. He eventually managed to stumble about a mile to a telephone, and police tracked down the stolen Chevrolet Tahoe using its LoJack anti-theft device.

In Watson's account to police after his arrest, he said that he and Miller had been standing some 20 feet away while Lockner, alone, pummeled the fisherman. Lockner, a self-professed white supremacist with swastika tattoos and an avowed admiration for Nazis, was sentenced in September to 31 years in prison for his role in the attack. Court documents described Lockner as a registered sex offender who molested a girl and raped a woman.

Miller, who admitted in an interview with The Baltimore Sun to being a truant and petty criminal from the age of about 13, was initially charged as an adult with attempted first-degree murder, but his lawyer, Steven D. Silverman, persuaded a judge to bump Miller's case down to the juvenile system. He was sent to Silver Oak Academy, a reform school for juvenile delinquents in rural Carroll County, and was released to his mother's custody on Nov. 10.

Conversely, Watson was ordered to remain in the adult system and has fared poorly, according to Silverman, who did not represent him but was apprised of developments in the case. Watson has been harassed, stabbed and beaten by black inmates while in the city lock-up because of the racial nature of the crime, the lawyer said.

In court on Wednesday, the bespectacled, oval-faced Watson — a slight, unimposing figure in yellow jail garb — was polite, but answered questions in a voice so soft that the judge told him to speak up. He said he was treated for attention deficit disorder before his arrest and incarceration, but that he had not taken any medication since then. Watson, who has an eleventh-grade education, declined to make a statement to the court when invited to do so, and had nothing to say to Privott, sitting behind him in the third row.

Assistant State's Attorney Michelle Martin, who had sought a prison term of 15 years rather than the 10 the judge gave him, said Watson had an extensive history in the juvenile system. She said he had shown no remorse for the attack on Privott and was unwilling "to accept his level of participation."

Watson, Lockner and Miller, "without any warning or provocation," assaulted Privott, knocked him to the ground and broke his glasses, all the while using racial slurs to insult him, the prosecutor said. The victim — whose wife, Ethel, had left the park moments earlier in her own car — sustained head injuries, including a blood clot on the left side of his brain, and required hospitalization. Doctors also found he had a fractured eye socket and had lost two teeth. Court documents filed a month later said he had "issues with his memory, dizziness and persistent headaches."

On the night of the assault, the prosecutor said, the three men fled in the Tahoe, used the $19 they had taken from Privott's wallet to buy pot from an acquaintance, and were "laughing and joking about the new truck they had acquired." Martin said the men gave no thought to the badly beaten elderly man they had left lying on the pier, and did not bother to have someone call 911 to get help for him.

It was Watson at the wheel of the Tahoe when it was tracked down by police and given chase, he acknowledged in an interview with detectives. Watson said he drove through a chain-link fence and flipped the vehicle over in the 5100 block of Erdman Ave. All three men ran off. Lockner was apprehended shortly afterward, and Watson and Miller within a day.

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