ELKTON — ELKTON -- A second Ku Klux Klansman pleaded guilty yesterday to a lesser charge in the beating of a black man who police say was attacked because he was riding in a pickup truck with a white woman.
Raymond E. Pierson, 44, of Elkton entered an Alford plea to a misdemeanor battery charge. Such a plea means that a defendant acknowledges that the prosecution probably would obtain a guilty verdict during a trial, but it is not an admission of guilt.
Nearly a month ago, former Klan leader Chester J. Doles, 33, a co-defendant, pleaded guilty to battery in the April 19 beating of Charles Peters, 30, of North East.
Doles, as part of his plea, agreed to testify against Pierson.
The threat of Doles' testimony obviously was enough to result in a guilty plea by Pierson, said John L. Scarborough, the Cecil County state's attorney.
But the prosecutor said the plea to a lesser charge was necessary because the state could not rely on Doles to be its principal witness.
Both Pierson and Doles had faced more serious charges of assault with intent to murder for the attack, which occurred at an intersection near Elkton.
Both men also were charged with commiting a hate crime.
Because that law is undergoing a constitutional challenge before the Maryland Court of Appeals, Mr. Scarborough said he did not want to risk having to try the cases again if the hate-crime statute were to be overturned.
Doles' agreement to testify in the beating case angered fellow Klansmen, including Robert Tweed, who calls himself the imperial wizard for the Territorial Klans of America, which is active on the Delmarva Peninsula.
Mr. Tweed, who declined to comment in Cecil County Circuit Court yesterday, has accused Doles of "betrayal."
Mr. Tweed succeeded Doles as imperial wizard.
Mr. Scarborough said there were indications that supporters of Mr. Tweed had made threats against Doles, who is being held in the county Detention Center.
At yesterday's proceeding, Circuit Judge Edward D. E. Rollins Jr. set Pierson's sentencing for Dec. 3. A sentencing date has not been set for Doles.
Outside the courtroom yesterday, Russell J. White, Pierson's attorney, said his client was admitting that he hit the victim three times in the head and upper body with a baseball bat or an ax handle.
But Mr. White contended that Pierson was trying to defend Doles.
The attorney claimed that Pierson believed that Mr. Peters had a knife.
Doles and Pierson each could be sentenced to up to 30 years in prison.
"I think there will be significant sentences," said Mr. Scarborough, the prosecutor.
Mr. Scarborough said the cases against the Klansmen had fractured the leadership of the Klan in the area.
"Prior to this incident, it seemed there was a solidarity within the local Klan," he said.