Patuxent's ills find embodiment in murder suspect


When the cops got there that night, they found Diane Michelle Lemon sprawled in the hall at the end of a long trail of blood with more than 50 scissor wounds in her body and the life all gone from her.

The cops showed up on a tip. The stabbing happened on the second floor of apartments in the 1800 block of Eutaw Place. A fellow on the first floor noticed something red dripping into his closet and called for help. The cops raced into the building and found a guy standing there soaked with blood and the floor stained crimson from his apartment to Diane Lemon's body.

This was seven weeks ago. Last Tuesday, the guy with the blood all over him was arraigned in criminal court. His name is William Robert Snowden, and he stood there in handcuffs and leg irons and looked around the room as Judge Kenneth Johnson read murder charges against him.

Snowden, 47 years old, seemed to have his mind elsewhere. He's entitled. Maybe he had nothing to do with Diane Lemon's death, and he figures a trial will prove it. Or maybe he was remembering previous courtrooms and previous charges of criminal acts.

There have been a lot of those. In fact, William Snowden's criminal history makes everybody in law enforcement these days look at his record and ask a fundamental question: What was Snowden doing on the street last Dec. 29 in the first place?

This is someone whose criminal record goes back nearly 40 years, back to when he was 10 years old. In his adult years, the pattern of crime is distinctly violent.

"Exactly," admits Dr. Devon Brown, warden at Patuxent Institution, where Snowden spent too little time in recent years. "You look at his record, and you just have to hold onto your seat."

Brown's words have a certain irony, in that Snowden's record automatically implicates Patuxent, the controversial state prison that exists in a correctional world of its own. It's not part of the state's Division of Correction. Inmates hoping for early release don't have to deal with Parole and Probation, they just face Patuxent's own review board -- comprised of four institution officials and five appointed citizens -- who are required to report only to the governor and the state secretary of public safety.

In August of 1972, Snowden was convicted of rape and sodomy and sentenced to 28 years behind bars. He was paroled from Patuxent early in 1981, when the institution's board determined he'd reformed himself and was no longer a danger to society.

Just months after his release, he was convicted on another rape charge and sentenced to 20 years at Patuxent. But two things here are stunning to law enforcement people: first, the 20 years was allowed to run concurrent with the original 28-year sentence. In other words, he was effectively getting no additional penalty for the second rape.

And, second, Snowden was released early in 1986, after serving barely four years behind bars.

"If there's one case," says Dr. Brown, "that represents exactly why citizens are so enraged with Patuxent, this is the one."

He's attempting to establish a little distance with those words, referring to the administration of Dr. Norma Gluckstern, who departed Patuxent two years ago under a cloud of early releases and questionable internal policies.

Patuxent has continued to come under fire, though. A study last month indicated that the institution's psychiatric counseling programs have no discernible effect on inmates and that Patuxent alumni are just as likely to be rearrested as other prison inmates.

In fact, the study said, nearly half of those released from Patuxent are rearrested within three years of their release.

Still, Dr. Brown says, conditions have improved since Snowden's early release during the Gluckstern era. He says inmates are now scrutinized much more carefully before they're paroled.

"And if we get wind of anything in violation of parole -- a felony, any violation at all -- we snatch them back to Patuxent," he said.

It's a little too late to snatch William Snowden back.

Last week, he stood in criminal court in tan slacks and a maroon knit shirt, bearded and slightly pot-bellied, glancing randomly around the room. He has admitted he was with Diane Lemon the night of themurder, indicating she had drugs on her mind and he had sex on his.

She was 23 years old, and she had a record for prostitution and for cocaine abuse. Snowden has claimed he paid her $50. In exchange, he says, she was to buy cocaine for herself and spend the night of Dec. 29 with him.

By 6 o'clock that evening, though, she was dead and there was blood all over the walls and the floors, the bed and the bathtub and the windowsill of Snowden's apartment.

Diane Lemon was no angel, but she deserved better than this. William Snowden is no angel, either. Nobody knows yet if he murdered Diane Lemon. But almost everybody agrees, he never should have been on the street in the first place.

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