A 20-year-old Severn man pleaded guilty yesterday to a charge of possessing a firearm during drug trafficking and was sentenced to five years in prison without the possibility of parole.
Howard County police found 54 bags of crack cocaine, a bag of marijuana and a loaded .40-caliber pistol in Charles A. Pigford's car during a traffic stop just hours after he was released from police custody on a charge of driving with a suspended license, prosecutors said.
Pigford, of the 1800 block of Graybird Court, first caught the attention of a Howard officer when he crossed the double yellow line on eastbound Columbia 100 Parkway on Aug. 20, said State's Attorney Timothy J. McCrone, who prosecuted the case.
The officer followed the car and smelled a faint odor of marijuana, McCrone said. After learning that the car's registered owner had a suspended license, the officer stopped Pigford, who threw a burning substance out of his window before pulling over on westbound Route 100, according to McCrone and court papers.
The bags of crack cocaine were found in a black bag on the front passenger seat and the gun was found under the seat, according to charging papers. The marijuana was found in the trunk.
Despite what his lawyer said was a "minimal criminal history," Pigford's guilty plea came with a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison without parole, lawyers said.
Pigford, a high school graduate who was working in maintenance at the time of his arrest, made a "stupid mistake," his lawyer, Marc L. Zayon, told Howard Circuit Judge Lenore R. Gelfman yesterday.
"You wonder how someone ... with so much promise ended up in this situation," he said.
The mandatory penalty is "harsh" for someone like Pigford, said Zayon, who asked Gelfman to recommend his client for the youthful offender program at Patuxent Institution in Jessup. The judge agreed.
"Because of the mandatory sentencing laws, you get kids with minimal records who end up getting lengthy sentences," Zayon said later. " ... He doesn't deserve five years without parole, but there was no choice."