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Cocaine dealer denied bid for shorter sentence


Nearly 18 months after Taneytown cocaine dealer Fernando Hernandez tearfully begged for a reduction of his 14-year prison sentence, a Carroll Circuit judge has turned him down.

Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. said in an order signed Thursday and filed yesterday that Hernandez's sentence "hopefully would act as a deterrent to future cocaine dealers in Carroll County."

Hernandez, one of the first three people ever charged in Carroll under the state's drug kingpin law, asked Judge Burns during his September 1992 sentence-reduction hearing to consider what a 14-year sentence would do to his three young children and his former wife.

"I'm here today for your help and mercy," the Colombian national said at the hearing. "This has been a horrible punishment for me and my family. I know I did wrong, and I know I deserve punishment. I've changed after being in jail for nine months."

He compared his confinement in Hagerstown to being in a cage, and said that if he were allowed out of jail he would do "2,000 or 3,000 hours" of volunteer work to "encourage kids to set goals in their lives."

None of that mattered to Judge Burns, he wrote in his order.

"Mr. Hernandez and numerous other co-defendants were the subject of a major cocaine investigation. . . . Hernandez actually sold cocaine to an undercover Maryland state trooper.

"Had it not been for the outstanding police investigation in this case, there was a very real likelihood that this cocaine operation would have caused major problems in Carroll County."

Yesterday, Judith S. Stainbrook, Hernandez's attorney, said she wasn't surprised at the judge's decision. "I knew all along that he was probably going to deny it. This is such a harsh sentence, especially for a first offense," she said.

Hernandez and his former wife, Bonnie, and his brother Henry, of Miami, were indicted by a county grand jury in January 1990 on charges tied to a Miami-to-Carroll cocaine ring.

As the case unfolded, none of the three was convicted under the law -- each entered into a plea agreement with prosecutors.

Fernando Hernandez pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and possession with intent to distribute cocaine. Although state guidelines called for a prison sentence of one to four years, Judge Burns imposed 14 years in December 1991.

Bonnie Hernandez pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to distribute cocaine. She was placed on probation and, late last year, was granted a divorce from Fernando Hernandez.

Henry Hernandez pleaded guilty to a similar charge and was given a suspended 10-year sentence because of his cooperation with state and federal drug officials. He has since been deported to Colombia.

Assistant State's Attorney Barton F. Walker III argued against the sentence reduction in September. And, although he hadn't seen a copy of Judge Burns' order yesterday, he said that leaving the sentence intact was appropriate. "I'm very pleased with the decision," he said. "It's certainly appropriate considering the criminality of the defendant."

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