Calling him a public menace, city Circuit Judge Wanda K. Heard sentenced to 10 years in prison yesterday a man who was accused of holding up six Fells Point businesses at gunpoint last year.
William Johnson, 42, of the 1100 block of Wilmount Court was convicted in October of second-degree burglary and one count of robbery with a deadly weapon. In exchange, the state dropped the other five armed-robbery charges. He entered an Alford plea, meaning that he did not admit committing the crime but agreed that prosecutors had sufficient evidence against him.
Assistant State's Attorney Thomas M. Donnelly described Johnson during yesterday's sentencing hearing as a career thief who has "constantly been granted breaks" by the courts. Johnson has been convicted of theft and burglary at least 10 times over the past decade but has never served more than two years in prison at one time, Donnelly said.
Johnson blamed his criminal record on addictions to heroin and cocaine. His defense attorney, Allan H. Rombro, said Johnson has been sober for several years, held a steady full-time job and lived in Baltimore with his fiancee. He asked the judge to be lenient with Johnson, saying, "He displays a lot of stability."
Heard said she thought the state's plea arrangement with Johnson was "overly generous" and sentenced him near the maximum of the range specified in the deal. She sentenced him to 15 years in prison for the burglary, suspending all but 10 years, and sentenced him to 20 years for robbery with a deadly weapon, suspending the entire term but ordering three years of probation.
Johnson was arrested in August of last year. Police suspectthat during a three-week span that summer, he robbed six Fells Point businesses using the same method. The statement of charges indicates that he would pose as a customer and would point a gun at a store clerk and demand money.
Johnson was charged with the July 29, 2003, robbery of the Black Planet Book Store in the 1600 block of Fleet St.; the Aug. 11, 2003, robbery of the Pearl O'Dell gift shop in the 700 block of S. Broadway; the Aug. 14, 2003, robbery of Crabby Dick's restaurant in the 600 block of S. Broadway.
Police also suspect that in one night, Aug. 18, 2003, Johnson held up Fran's Tavern in the 2100 block of E. Pratt St.; Tug Boat Ann's bar in the 500 block of S. Bond St.; and Paws store, in the 700 block of S. Broadway.
In addition, he was charged with burglary in the theft of 11 cases of cigarettes on March 31 of last year from a Crown station in the 4200 block of Erdman Ave.
On Oct. 1, Johnson entered Alford pleas for the burglary charge and the robbery of Crabby Dick's. Prosecutors agreed to drop the other charges.
Barbara Rush, 23, who was working at Pearl O'Dell the afternoon it was robbed, told the judge yesterday that she lives in fear because of Johnson.
On a sunny August afternoon, she said, Johnson, who she thought was a customer, pointed a gun at her heart and demanded that she fill a bag with money.
"This was the most horrible experience of my life," she said. Rush told the judge that because of the robbery, she abandoned her plan to work as a public defender specializing in alternatives to prison. She has since moved to Chicago to work in child care.
As she gave her statement in the crowded courtroom, Johnson's relatives mumbled and sighed loudly. Upset by the family's demeanor in the hallway after the hearing, Rush asked to be escorted to her car.