In a tense Carroll County courtroom yesterday, a Westminster father forgave a teen-age defendant for selling his son a fatal dose of heroin in January.
Moments before Kristopher Olenginski was sentenced in connection with the death of 15-year-old Liam O'Hara, Michael O'Hara turned from the witness stand to tell the defendant that he loved him. "I would rather address Kris than the court," Michael O'Hara said, a faint quiver in his voice.
O'Hara found his son dead in bed on Jan. 9, the morning after Olenginski, 16, of Westminster sold the drug to Liam.
O'Hara reminded Olenginski that as a coach, he loved him when the two boys played on his youth league soccer team years before.
"I do think you need to be accountable," O'Hara said. "I wish you well."
Elsbeth L. Bothe, a former Baltimore Circuit Court judge who presided at the Carroll Circuit Court sentencing, ordered Olenginski to serve 18 months in jail. She also ordered him to perform 240 hours of community service while awaiting an appeal of his adult status.
Olenginski, dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and a tie, told Bothe his life has changed since January, and it "hasn't been for the better."
"I realize what I did was wrong and very stupid," he said. "I was involved with people and things and I didn't realize the hardship it would force upon my family and friends. I certainly didn't expect anyone to die."
Olenginski firmly denied he had used heroin, which Bothe said she found difficult to believe.
When Anton J. S. Keating, the Baltimore attorney representing Olenginski, argued that drug tests performed March 3 proved his client did not have a heroin problem, Bothe scoffed.
Keating said the results would have shown the presence of heroin if Olenginski had used the drug up to 90 days before the test.
But Bothe said she believed traces of heroin would have disappeared within 48 hours.
Keating and the judge locked horns again on conditions of probation after she sentenced Olenginski to five-year concurrent prison terms for distribution of heroin and conspiracy to distribute heroin.
In accordance with the terms of the plea, Bothe suspended all but 18 months of the concurrent terms and said the defendant could seek modification after serving 90 days at the Carroll County Detention Center, if he does not win an appeal of his adult status.
While two older teen-agers were involved in the conspiracy to sell the heroin to Liam O'Hara, both were tried as juveniles, but Olenginski was waived to adult court.
An 18-year-old girl, convicted in May for her role in the case, was sentenced by Peter M. Tabatsko, the juvenile master for Carroll County, to a suspended term at an unspecified juvenile detention center and placed on probation. Tabatsko also ordered indefinite home monitoring for the girl and ordered her to perform 350 hours of community service.
The other co-defendant, a 15-year-old boy, was charged and tried as a juvenile and is incarcerated at an unspecified juvenile detention center.
Keating said he would file a brief with the Court of Special Appeals within 30 days, asking that Carroll Circuit Judge Francis M. Arnold's decision to waive Olenginski from juvenile to adult court be overturned. Keating said he was confident of winning an appeal on that point.
Keating also said he would ask the appellate court to overturn Carroll Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr.'s decision to reject having the case removed from Carroll County because of pretrial publicity.
Bothe said she was bound by what the other judges had ruled. She agreed to defer imposing the sentence until Olenginski's appeal is decided, but she strongly disagreed with Keating over the issue of community service.
Keating said community service had not been addressed in plea negotiations, but David P. Daggett, deputy state's attorney, said community service was a routine request, and that it is generally left to the discretion of the court to decide how many hours should be performed.
Bothe asked how many hours Liam O'Hara had worked at a Burger King to earn the money he used to buy drugs.
Michael O'Hara said his son worked 20 hours a week.
Hearing that, Bothe ordered that Olenginski perform 240 hours of community service over the next three months.
Keating argued that community service was an onerous punishment. He said that, depending upon the outcome of the appeal, his client could be punished twice -- with community service and with incarceration.
Keating dropped the argument after Olenginski told him that he would perform the 240 hours.
Daggett called the judge's decision reasonable. He said the state did not object to deferring imposition of the jail term because of the pending appeal.
"It would be unfair if he had served jail time and then learned that his case should have been handled in juvenile court," Daggett said.
"If the appeal is denied, he can serve 90 days and then seek to have the balance of the 18 months modified," according to the plea agreement, Daggett said.
If jailed, and upon being released, Olenginski will be placed on five years of probation and will be subject to any demands for drug treatment that probation officials may deem necessary, Bothe said.
Pub Date: 9/22/98