A convicted Baltimore murderer who in 2015 struck a deal with prosecutors to be released from prison after more than 35 years behind bars is now back in jail, his latest shot at freedom on the line.
Wendell Beard, 62, is one of more than 170 violent Maryland inmates released from prison since a controversial court ruling threw old jury trials into question in 2012. He was arrested Wednesday after police said they pulled over his vehicle in Reservoir Hill based on a tip and recovered two handguns and six spray bottles of hospital-grade fentanyl, a powerful and dangerous opioid.
Police said they also recovered various other weapons, handcuffs and a black face mask.
Beard, who is prohibited from possessing firearms as a convicted felon, has been charged with an “array” of gun, drug and other weapons violations, police said.
He could not be reached for comment, and did not have an attorney listed in online court records.
Beard could now be sent back to prison for life if he’s found to have violated the probation he was placed on as part of his 2015 deal with Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby’s office.
The deal was set in motion by a 2012 decision by Maryland’s highest court that called into question the fairness of jury instructions in the state prior to December 1980.
The decision, known as the Unger ruling, opened the door for appeals of decades-old convictions, including many where evidence has been lost and witnesses have died.
Antonio Gioia, chief counsel in Mosby's office, said he negotiated the deal with Beard because of weaknesses in the original case, difficulties locating witnesses and Beard’s positive record in prison.
Neither the state nor public defender was able to locate relatives of Beryl Friedrick, the Pikesville realty broker Beard was convicted of killing near Druid Hill Park in 1979.
But The Baltimore Sun on Friday reached Friedrick’s daughter Debra, who said her family is “appalled” he was released in 2015.
“Because of Beard, my father has missed out on graduations, weddings, and his grandchildren, and we’ve missed out on my father’s humor, advice, and love,” she said. “We certainly hope and expect that the state will put him back behind bars, where he belongs, for the rest of his life,” she said.
“Beard has killed, and he has ruined lives. Nobody else should have to suffer at his hands. He was given chances he didn’t deserve, and has shown that any wishful thoughts about his ability to be rehabilitated were quite misplaced.”
Gioia said he was “profoundly disappointed” in the latest charges against Beard, and will recommend that his life sentence be reimposed if he is convicted in the new case or another pending against him.
Gioia could argue Beard is in violation of his probation now, but said he will wait for a conviction.
Michael May, a former Baltimore police officer turned defense attorney who has known Beard for decades, advocated for his release in 2015 and represented him in a recent burglary case. May said Thursday that he fears Beard is now destined to “die in prison.”
“He just can’t break out of that street mentality. It’s what he was raised with, and I think that he got discouraged with attempting to get a job” and failing, May said.
That’s unusual for Unger inmates, advocates say.
Walter Lomax, executive director of the Maryland Restorative Justice Initiative, said most inmates released under the ruling “are doing absolutely everything that is humanly possible to make sure they don’t go back” to prison.
Lomax said he hopes Beard’s alleged actions aren’t given undue attention by judges and prosecutors making decisions in still-pending Unger cases, because they are “an aberration.”
Michael Millemann, a University of Maryland law professor who has represented other Unger inmates, agreed. He said only a handful of misdemeanors have been filed against the approximately 175 inmates — average age 65 — who have been released under the ruling.
“They are peaceful,” he said. “A number of them are engaged in community development activities, counseling youth. Some are ministers in their churches.”
Beard hasn’t been as successful. Since his release, he has been charged with assault in Baltimore and Baltimore County, though both charges were dropped. May represented Beard when he was found not guilty of four burglary charges in October. Beard is due in Baltimore Circuit Court in February on drug possession and distribution charges from April.
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Beard racked up charges in his earlier years, too.
He was arrested three dozen times before his 18th birthday, and was labeled a juvenile “plague” on the city by a former police commissioner. He earned a reputation as an “escape artist” by breaking out of custody at least four times, and was convicted of manslaughter at the age of 17 before being put away for life for murder at 24.
In one incident in 1975, Beard managed to slip out of handcuffs at the old Central District police station and jumped out a second-story window to escape. May, then a police detective sergeant, jumped out the window after him, but shattered his right ankle and broke his left heel upon landing.
Decades later May got back in touch with Beard by writing him in prison, then decided to advocate for Beard’s release. May said he believed Beard could be better, but is now unconvinced.
“I wasn’t able to persuade this guy that the street life wasn’t the way to go,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking.”