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Principal in jail, kids try to understand


Christopher Corneal, age 6, wanted to know how big the cell was that held his elementary school principal, charged as a drug kingpin yesterday in the largest marijuana case in Anne Arundel County history.

His sister wondered if she was guilty and another youngster, upset by the charged atmosphere, wanted to transfer out of Severna Park Elementary School as parents and teachers tried to explain how an adult they taught their children to trust can be in jail.

Most of their answers were difficult. They don't know the size of the cell, or whether the principal is guilty or innocent. And some of the answers were easier: drugs are bad and people who use and distribute them end up behind bars.

"This is a real emotional loss for them," said Christopher's mother, Julie Corneal, "This is their leader and the authority figure of the school."

The principal, Patricia Ann Emory, 45, was ordered held yesterday on $150,000 bail -- one of nine people to be charged under the state's kingpin statute. Later last night, she posted bail and was released. A 10th person arrested in the case is charged with a misdemeanor.

Ms. Emory's 47-year-old husband, James, was ordered held without bond. They were arrested Thursday morning when Anne ArundelCounty police swept through homes and rented storage bins in three counties and Baltimore.

Officers seized 800 pounds of marijuana worth $1 million, $320,000 in cash, cars, boats, guns and documents detailing a 15-year drug distribution network that has roots in Mexico.

The lawyer for Ms. Emory, who lives with her husband in the 1200 block of Villa Isle Court in Pasadena, argued yesterday that his client didn't know anything about drug sales.

"I've seen the police charge the wife before so they can squeeze both of them," E. Thomas Maxwell claimed in a hearing in a packed room at District Court in Annapolis.

But prosecutors said that Ms. Emory was present at meetings at her house with other alleged kingpins.

Assistant State's Attorney William Katcef told Judge Clayton Greene Jr. that Ms. Emory would have every reason to skip bail. "It's possible that she would be taking her last breath in prison," he said.

Prosecutors said police found keys to all of the storage bins where the marijuana was stashed in Mr. Emory's Ford Explorer truck.

Six others, including George Thomas Johnson, of the 900 block of Lombardee Circle, Glen Burnie, were ordered held without bail. One was held on $50,000 bond and one was released on personal recognizance.

Mr. Johnson was described as the ring leader by police.

Lawyers for many of the defendants complained that police had charged too many people as kingpins.

"It amazes me we have all chiefs and no Indians," said Timothy D. Murnane, who is representing Ms.Emory's sister-in-law, Linda Emory.

Parents of Patricia Emory's students, who knew her only at the school, worried yesterday that their children were confused by the long list of serious charges against her and the publicity surrounding the case.

"They know what constitutes a drug and what isn't," Ms. Corneal said. "They know drugs are bad. But they don't know the legal issues or penalties. I think this is a real hard lesson."

Lynda Thebaud said her son, Delphin, 8, asked to be transferred to a private school. "I know he was upset about coming to school," she said. "This is one place you have a safe feeling. Now I'm mad because my son doesn't feel safe."

Counselors were at the school yesterday, but the classroom teachers handled their students' questions and proceeded with a normal school day, said Joseph Fudjack, pupil personnel coordinator for the county school system.

"The teachers did not get into a lot of detail," he said.

The students asked where their principal is, how she is, and when can they see her, Mr. Fudjack recounted. "The teachers answered it honestly. There are a lot of questions we don't have answers to right now."

County school Superintendent C. Berry Carter said the arrest "took the wind out of us," and described the events as a "very puzzling situation." He said he would normally recommend administrative leave without pay, but said he cannot take any action against Ms. Emory without a face-to-face meeting.

He described her as one of the top administrators in the system.

"If you asked me to name five or six of the best elementary school principals, she certainly would have been one of them," the superintendent said.

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