A Wink and a Nod Plea Deal

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Sentenced to life without parole for the 1997 killing of a DC police officer, Donovan Strickland claims that he was promised a reduced sentence in exchange for his guilty plea.  Under Maryland law, convicts have a right to ask a judge to reduce their sentence and in 2005 the trial judge in this case, Richard H. Sothoron Jr, presided over a hearing to reconsider the sentence.  The courtroom was packed with police officers, including the Chief and his command staff, opposing any reduction in Strickland’s sentence.
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At the hearing Strickland’s trial attorney, Michael Blumenthal, said that Judge Sothoron
had promised to reduce the sentence to life and suspend all but 50 years. The matter was turned over to the Chief Administrative Judge who assigned the case to Circuit Court Judge Michael P. Whalen. After working it’s way through the appeals courts a sentencing reconsideration hearing was finally held in Judge Whalen’s courtroom yesterday.
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Strickland’s attorney again testified to the “wink and a nod” promise made by the judge. Again the courtroom was packed with DC police officers including Chief Cathy Lanier, pictured above center foreground.
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Donovan Strickland, took the stand to say that his understanding when he agreed to the plea was that with good behavior his sentenced would later be reduced and he could be eligible for parole in 25-30 years.
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Judge Sothoron testified “There was nothing discussed beforehand that is not reflected in the record,”  and “the record speaks for itself”. Although he did admit that he was  “inclined to favor a reconsideration of the sentence,” at the time a plea deal was accepted.
The hearing was continued until next Thursday, but before recessing for the day the Judge heard statements fromStrickland091002_bro
Donovan Strickland’s brother,
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and from Oliver Smith, the father of slain officer Oliver Smith Jr.

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Courtartist is me, Art Lien. I've been sketching the courts since 1976, and for most of that time the U.S. Supreme Court has been my regular beat. I've been working almost exclusively for NBC News since 1980. Courtroom sketching is a form of visual journalism or reportage drawing that is slowly dying out. Where once upon a time news organization each had their own artist covering a story, today a "pool" artist often sketches for all. It is a demanding and stressful discipline where the drawing is often done directly and under tight deadline.

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