By Van Smith
Published by City Paper, Dec. 10, 2009
Warren Brown is highly exercised on Dec. 9, as he returns to the defense table from Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge David Young’s bench. “I’ll say for the record, your honor,” the criminal-defense attorney declares, “that the state can forget about any help from this young lady.”
Brown is referring to his client, 21-year-old former prison guard Lynae Chapman (pictured), who’s in court for her arraignment on misdemeanor charges that she helped procure a cell phone for an inmate—22-year-old murder suspect Ray Donald Lee, an alleged Black Guerrilla Family gangmember who is Chapman’s boyfriend and the father of her unborn child—at the Baltimore City Detention Center, where she worked until her Oct. 23 indictment (“A Big No-No,” Nov. 4). Chapman, as Brown makes clear, wants to plead guilty, but, due to whatever just transpired at a 10-minute bench conference, the judge won’t accept the plea, so Chapman’s case is going forward to a trial scheduled for Feb. 12.
“We’re prepared to plead guilty today,” Brown continues, “but she’s gonna be continually held [in detention] until the next trial date, and the state’ll come up with some reason to postpone. They’re coming up with a reason to postpone a guilty plea! Which, I mean, when have we not allowed individuals to plead guilty unless we have some issue with regard to their competency? The state acts as if they have a right to prohibit a person from pleading guilty! They have a factual basis for the court accepting the plea.
“Quite frankly, as the state knows,” Brown says, “it’s not a question of guilt or innocence. They’ve got a very, very, very, very good case against her. Absolutely. And so we don’t intend to go to trial. We want only to resolve this as soon as possible and take our lumps.” He adds that his client is not interested in pursuing a deal in exchange for pleading guilty: “I mean, no deals, all bets are off.”
The rationale behind the judge’s refusal to allow Chapman’s attempt to plead guilty presumably was discussed during the bench conference that immediately preceded Brown’s open-court diatribe. City Paper on Dec. 10 attempted to learn what was discussed by viewing the videotape of the proceeding at the court reporter’s office, as has often been done in the past. But under new rules instituted two months ago, the staff there explained, bench conferences are deleted from recordings of court proceedings prior to public viewing, so the discussion about Chapman’s case remains a secret between the state, the defense, and the judge.
The unusual twist is not the first odd turn in Chapman’s case. A strong indication that there’s more going on than meets the eye came from the spokesman for Chapman’s former employer, the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. Mark Vernarelli declined to comment on the case after her indictment, saying that to do so “would jeopardize other law-enforcement agencies’ investigations.” In addition, the court file of Chapman’s case is not available for public review at the clerk’s office—indeed, the case is not even listed on the on-line Maryland Judiciary Case Search, the main source of information about court cases. City Paper‘s reporting has been possible only via open-court proceedings for Chapman’s bail review and arraignment.
Also strange was the prosecutor’s behavior after Chapman’s arraignment hearing, during which Brown did virtually all of the on-the-record speaking. City Paper had been unable to hear her name when she stood to call the case, and, after the hearing was over, asked her to provide it. She repeatedly refused, suggesting that City Paper go look it up in the court file. When City Paper explained that the file in Chapman’s case is not publicly available, she again refused to identify herself. In a Dec. 10 e-mail, Baltimore City State’s Attorney spokesman Joseph Sviatko disclosed the prosecutor’s name: Nancy Olin.
At the end of the arraignment hearing, Brown does the only thing he can do: He pleads not guilty on behalf of his client and requests a jury trial. Chapman, with her hair pulled back tight in a bun, sits beside him and signs the necessary paperwork, struggling with her handcuffs to do so. She’s in full restraints—her ankles, wrists, and mid-section are chained—and her pregnant belly shows prominently through her gray Department of Corrections sweatsuit. “You gotta hold on, baby-doll,” Brown tells her, before she is escorted out of the courtroom.