City justice system gives victim's family 'a slap in the face'

The Baltimore Sun

This is a story in which everybody did the right thing.

The victims, the cops, the prosecutors, the judge and the jailers conspired to get a case right. No excuses needed or sought. No apologies required or offered. They did what they were supposed to do, and the bad guy went to prison.

Yes, in Baltimore.

So, of course, there's a twist.

It came in the form of a letter from the Maryland Parole Commission to the 66-year-old mugging victim's son-in-law who lives in Laurel. The man they had worked so hard to put behind bars has a parole hearing scheduled for July. The letter arrived in February, just a month after Dajuan Daward had been sentenced to three years in prison.

The son-in-law, Michael Brand, had barely finished reading his victim impact statement in Baltimore Circuit Court when he was told to dust it off and send it in to the parole board for its consideration.

"We thought we had heard the last of this for a while," Brand told me. "Needless to say, my wife and I could barely believe our eyes. ... What a slap in the face to my family. I had heard about Baltimore's infamous revolving-door justice system before, and now my family and I are really getting a bitter taste of it."

You might remember Michael Brand and his mother-in-law, Emilia Miller, from last August. Miller was visiting the area from Jennings, La., to get a slipped disc repaired at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Before the procedure, the family took a trip into Baltimore to attend at play at the Spotlighters Theatre on St. Paul Street in Mount Vernon.

As she was about to walk to the below-street-level entrance, a young man attacked her, grabbed her purse and dragged her eight to 10 steps before it broke free. Brand and a bystander chased the man down for police. Miller had lost her purse, $25, a digital camera, a watch and her medical records.

Miller and Brand were the model victims. They cooperated with police and attended every court hearing, even ones that had been canceled without them knowing it, and remained hopeful even when authorities confused the suspect's birth date and thought he might have to be tried as a juvenile.

They worked closely with the prosecutor and agreed to a deal in which Daward would plead guilty to one count of armed robbery and be sentenced to 10 years in prison, with all but three years suspended. Miller said he agreed that a trial in Baltimore could be risky, and that his mother-in-law would have to return from Louisiana, perhaps several times given routine delays, to testify.

"I'm not a gambling man," Brand told me.

So the guilty plea and sentence went as planned. Then the parole letter came.

The sad part is that, too, is all simply part of the justice process.

It may have arrived a month after Daward was sentenced, but his prison time started when he was arrested, in August, and the parole board schedules hearings months ahead of time. State law requires that violent offenders - and Daward is one - must serve half their sentence before being eligible for parole. For Daward, that is February 2010.

I asked Brand whether that explanation, from a spokesman with the state prison system, makes him feel any better.

"Not really," he answered.

The timing of the letter was unfortunate, but I'm sure it was done with the best of intentions, giving victims time to prepare and adjust schedules.

But for Brand, who still comes to Baltimore to eat in restaurants and attend plays at Spotlighters (he was there this week), even a process that works isn't very comforting.

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