Dead-end kid uses his wits, blabs his way into courtroom confession


Criminal defendants have been known to change their plea from not guilty to guilty, but I've never heard of them doing it from the witness stand in midtrial. (OK, sometimes it happens on "Matlock," and it happened frequently on "Perry Mason," when the bad guy would break down on the stand and Raymond Burr would sneer heroically, as if he had just removed another tick from the hairy back of civilized society.) In Baltimore County this week, there was such a case. But first . . . let's cut to the chase!

Sunday morning, Jan. 30, 1994. Baltimore County police are in hot pursuit of an armed suspect who has just robbed the manager of a Towson video store of $6,000 in Saturday night receipts. Cops chase the getaway car south, across the county line, into the city and an apartment complex near Perring Parkway. The car bucks to a stop at a dead end. Two men jump out and run. A Baltimore County police helicopter, an R-22 with Officer Roy Taylor at the controls, bears down on the scene. The helicopter swings around the Northern Parkway bridge at Perring Parkway. Officer Taylor hovers the bird so low he can actually see under the bridge. He spots a hand moving in the darkness. One of the suspects is hiding there, crouched where bridge meets grade. Got him! Cops on the ground make the arrest. Taken into custody is one Rodney Simms, 24, of Middle River.

Cut to the courtroom.

Simms goes on trial in Baltimore County Circuit Court. When the prosecution rests, he opts to testify in his own defense. Not every criminal defendant makes such a choice, of course. But Simms, confident of his innocence, chances the consequences.

Under cross-examination by Sue Hazlett, assistant state's attorney, Simms denies having ever seen the manager of the Blockbuster Video in Towson Marketplace. (At this point, the manager already had testified about the robbery.)

Hazlett: "Well then, how do you explain the $6,000 in your pocket with the Blockbuster [bank] deposit slip?"

Simms: "That guy gave it to me."

Hazlett: "What guy?"

Simms: "That guy, you know, the victim, I guess."

Hazlett: "Oh. So, are you saying you robbed him?"

Simms: "I guess you could say that."

(Hey, the guy might be a crook, but at least he's honest.) The jury deliberated an hour, tops. Simms is awaiting sentencing.

Fishing is good

Just in from Ed Darwin, veteran Chesapeake Bay charter boat captain: "This has been the best season for fishing I've seen in 36 years -- for variety and numbers of fish."

Crabbing is slow

Fishing might be good, but the crabbing has been slow this summer, due largely to the cold and wet spring we had. You hear a lot of grousing -- either about the lack of crabs running the bay and its creeks, or about the market supply and price. I didn't hear much grousing yesterday morning at Fred Thompson's place, however. It was too pretty a daybreak to complain about the number of crabs not taking the flabby chicken necks Fred had tied to lines and dropped into the water. Fred and his wife, Nancy, live in Bayside Beach, on the Patapsco. They have a converted summer house with a lawn that slopes down to the water and a patio atop a large masonry wall with an American flag mural. At the foot of that wall, in a sliver of organically fertilized dirt, is a row of healthy tomato plants. The Thompson place shouldn't be hard to spot from the water.

"I'm a chicken neck man," Fred said of his crabbing style. "My neighbor uses perch that he catches himself. 'Crabs don't see chicken necks out there,' he tells me. But the necks work for me."

We saw only two crabs in two hours, not keepers either. "But I've seen lots of baby crabs this year," Fred said. "And lots of grass shrimp and some kind of seaweed -- moss, I call it -- that we haven't seen in years; they say that's a good sign."

The day had broken silver and white and gray, with a stunning cloud formation -- a high ceiling of white feathers above a long, snowy mountain range that stretched across the slate horizon of the bay. Feeding rockfish broke on the water. "I was out here for the sunrise," Fred bragged, feeling lucky, even though the crabbing was slow.

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