Man pleads guilty to robbing woman, 3 stores; Name on matchbook, fingerprints, witnesses led to a suspect


A 38-year-old Baltimore man pleaded guilty in Howard County Circuit Court yesterday to four robberies last year, including one in which he stole a purse and dragged the victim 20 feet across a Columbia parking lot.

Derrick A. Fields is scheduled to be sentenced in January. He could receive a maximum of 60 years in prison, but in a plea agreement prosecutors agreed to request a maximum sentence no longer than 15 years.

Fields stood quietly as Deputy State's Attorney I. Matthew Campbell read through a statement of facts that outlined the case against him and revealed how police linked Fields to a string of robberies last October.

Fields' defense attorney, Allen F. Schuldenfrei, told Judge Dennis M. Sweeney that Fields has been suffering from an addiction to heroin for the past 20 years. He also said that some of the robberies likely were committed while his client was on drugs. He requested that some of Fields' jail time be spent in drug treatment.

On Oct. 10, 1998, Fields approached a woman who was vacuuming the back seat of her car at a Long Reach Exxon station, Campbell said. She had her two young children with her.

Fields opened the front passenger door, grabbed the woman's purse and tried to flee, Campbell said. But the woman latched onto her purse and Fields dragged her 20 feet over pavement. "I'll kill you if you don't give this to me," Fields reportedly told the woman.

She finally let go.

Afterward, a bystander approached the woman and said he wouldn't identify himself but gave her a matchbook with Fields' name written on it, Campbell said.

Cigarette behind his ear

Three days later, Fields struck again, Campbell said. He entered a photo-processing shop on Harper's Farm Road about 2 p.m. and gave the clerk a note that demanded money or he would shoot her, Campbell said. The clerk gave Fields $200 and he fled.

Police were able to link Fields to that robbery because a clerk at a neighboring drugstore reported seeing a suspicious man that afternoon. The man had handled a blue bag several times, Campbell said, and police were able to link fingerprints taken from that bag to Fields.

The clerk also told authorities that he noticed the customer had a cigarette stuck behind one ear, Campbell said. Even though surveillance footage from the photo processing shop didn't clearly show the robber, it did reveal a small, white object behind an ear that police believed to be a cigarette, Campbell said.

The clerk at the photo-processing shop identified Fields in a photo lineup, Campbell said.

'Show me' the gun

On Oct. 17, 1998, Fields entered a convenience store on Cradlerock Way about 11: 20 p.m. and handed a clerk a note: "I have a gun, give me all the money."

But the clerk was incredulous. "Show me" the weapon, the clerk said. Fields lifted his shirt to reveal what the clerk thought was a small pistol, Campbell said. Fields jumped over the counter and took cash from the register. The clerk identified Fields in a photo lineup, Campbell said.

Three nights later, Fields entered a convenience store in Ellicott City, demanded money and said he had a gun. He took about $190 from the register and forced the clerk, a co-worker and a customer into a back room before he fled, Campbell said.

A bystander recognized Fields from a "wanted" poster, Campbell said.

Baltimore County police arrested Fields on Oct. 23, 1998, after a botched robbery attempt at a convenience store on Frederick Road, authorities said.

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