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AWOL hitchhiker gets 8 years after shootout and manhunt


ANNAPOLIS -- A hitchhiking Canadian fugitive who led police on a 41-hour manhunt last June after a shootout with two state troopers along U.S. 50 was sentenced yesterday to eight years in prison.

Before sentencing, Pvt. Eric W. Schumacher, who was one of two AWOL Canadian soldiers charged in the shootout, Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr. said: "The facts here are just absolutely outrageous. We're lucky no one was killed."

But the judge, noting that Schumacher had admitted his guilt and had no prior criminal background, agreed to sentence within non-binding guidelines that showed the 21-year-old soldier should receive five to eight years.

State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee had argued for a harsher sentence because Schumacher shot at police officers. "To me it shows a complete and utter disregard for authority and an intent to destroy that authority for no reason," the prosecutor said.

Schumacher's co-defendant, Pvt. Donald R. Nelson, 20, is scheduled to be tried today. District Public Defender Alan R. Friedman has said he would consider Schumacher's sentence in advising Private Nelson on whether to accept a plea bargain. Both men also face charges in the shooting of a Toronto police officers six days before the June 6 incident on U.S. 50 near Davidsonville.

Schumacher was described yesterday as suffering from a compulsive personality that on one hand made him suitable for a military career but on the other hand "doesn't permit him to change mental gears rapidly" and leaves him vulnerable to the effects of stress.

Psychologist David L. Shapiro and psychiatrist Ellen McDaniel said Schumacher and Private Nelson went AWOL because they had been involved in a fight in their Army barracks and were afraid their opponents were going to come after them with baseball bats.

Defense attorney Timothy D. Murnane said Schumacher, ever the military man, had reacted to clumsy attempts to arrest him by "pepper-potting" -- or shooting into the air to temporarily freeze the troopers -- before fleeing. He said his client was the last person to fire in the shoot-out.

Schumacher wiped tears from his eyes after members of his family stood to show their support. In a shaky voice, Schumacher told the judge, "I wish this never happened but unfortunately it did. I just have to go on with my life."

Schumacher, who pleaded guilty in November, received concurrent eight-year sentences for assault with intent murder and a handgun violation. The sentence on the handgun charge requires him to serve at least five years with no chance for parole.

After the hearing, Trooper Kimberly Bowman, who was not injured in the shootout although her leather handcuff case did catch a bullet, fought back tears while explaining why she was unhappy with the sentence. "I don't think a person should get extra points because they didn't kill someone," the 23-year-old trooper said, adding, "It's not that I want extra favors because I'm a police officer."

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