Baltimore Spectator pleads guilty to gun charge

Baltimore Spectator pleads guilty to gun charge
Frank James MacArthur, 47, faces weapons charges after police searched his home following a standoff. (Baltimore City Police, Handout photo)

Frank James MacArthur, the local Internet personality known as the Baltimore Spectator, pleaded guilty Wednesday to possession of a short-barreled shotgun after a December standoff with police that he broadcast live.

MacArthur's lawyer said his client was not happy with the outcome, but realized he faced another two months in jail before getting another trial date because the prosecutor was tied up in another case.


"Baltimore jail is not a good place to be," attorney Mark Van Bavel said. MacArthur was being held without bail.

MacArthur was sentenced to three years in prison, all but six months of which are to be suspended; three years of probation; and a $500 fine. With the time he served awaiting trial, Van Bavel said, MacArthur should be released from jail Thursday.

Police charged MacArthur after the protracted standoff at his Waverly home last year.

Officers had gone there to serve a warrant stemming from an alleged probation violation in a previous gun case, but learned that MacArthur was posting to Twitter in a way they felt was "threatening," assistant state's attorney Kevin Wiggins said.

The officers called for backup and the standoff began. All the while, MacArthur was broadcasting audio live via an Internet streaming service.

The Baltimore state's attorney's office had asked Circuit Judge Alfred Nance to impose a lengthier prison sentence: five years, with all but three years suspended.

"This office takes cases involving guns really very seriously and I think our prosecution of the case reflected that," said Mark Cheshire, a spokesman for the office.

Nance ordered MacArthur to undergo a mental health evaluation. His information is to be added to the city's gun offender registry. The probation in the case that originally led to the standoff was closed in January without being violated.

MacArthur, ordinarily irrepressibly loquacious, answered most of Nance's questions with simple yeses and nos. But when Nance asked if he had been coerced into making his plea, MacArthur cracked up before answering "no."

"I'm not laughing," Nance told him. "This plea is about to be withdrawn and you're about to go to trial."

When Nance asked MacArthur for his address, the defendant began to launch into an explanation of how his home was facing foreclosure proceedings. The judge cut him off.

Van Bavel explained to MacArthur that he had the right to address the court, but he advised him to waive it because the judge had already agreed to the sentence.

MacArthur had been blogging about policing in Baltimore for years and started a regular online radio show shortly before his arrest. His coverage of criminal justice issues earned him a band of loyal supporters who followed his case closely.

They cheered in the courtroom hallway when Van Bavel explained that he would soon be released. But some were upset that he had pleaded guilty and given up his chance to challenge the legality of the police search.


"I'm glad he's going to go free," said Leo Zimmermann, who corresponded with MacArthur in jail. "I'm also glad that he was able to take some control over what was happening to some degree.

"At the same time it's obvious to me that he was coerced into this plea. He felt like he had to plead guilty."