Ernie Reed probably believes in miracles.
Despite having what Carroll Circuit Judge Francis M. Arnold described as the "lifetime record of a career criminal," the 25-year-old from Gettysburg, Pa., wasn't sent to state prison yesterday for stealing more than $4,000 worth of tools from a former employer.
Instead, the judge imposed a suspended eight-year sentence and placed the former Westminster man on five years of supervised probation.
Ernest Lawson Reed could have been sent to prison for 10 years as a result of his conviction of breaking and entering with the intent to commit a felony.
"Your honor, this is a changed Ernie Reed before you today," defense attorney Jeffrey H. Gray said during yesterday's brief sentencing hearing. He told of Reed's six-month detoxification at the Westminster Rescue Mission and his employment with and membership in Westminster's Church of the Open Door.
Mr. Gray said Reed had not used alcohol or drugs in seven months.
The judge was skeptical at first that Reed had resigned from his career as a criminal.
"You have the lifetime record of a career criminal. You're only 25, and you've done it all," Judge Arnold said. "For you to come back now and draw a line in the sand and say you will engage in no more criminal activity would be a miracle.
While he acknowledged that he was giving Reed another chance, Judge Arnold also said, "I won't suspend one minute of this sentence" if Reed gets in trouble again.
Assistant State's Attorney Eileen McInerney had asked the judge to sentence Reed to three years in prison, less than state sentencing guidelines. She slowly shook her head as the judge pronounced sentence.
Reed's conviction was the latest on a criminal record that includes charges ranging from assault to theft, court officials said.
In the case that brought him to court yesterday, Reed was convicted in July of breaking into a Finksburg business in January and stealing tools worth about $4,000. Court records say the theft was meant as retaliation against the business owner, who had fired Reed days earlier.
Prior to the break-in, Reed was arrested several times, once on a charge of beating his girlfriend, of which he was acquitted earlier this year. Every time he was arrested, he would tell Mr. Gray to "get him off," the attorney told the judge yesterday.
But after his arrest in the break-in, Reed's attitude was different. Mr. Gray said Reed "faced up" to the crime and "decided to take responsibility."