While this story takes place in Baltimore, it could just as well be unfolding anywhere in the United States. A few years ago there was a deal cut in Charm City through the office of Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby. Between 2012 and 2015 more than 170 inmates convicted of violent crimes were released early because previous sentencing guidelines and court procedures were considered too “unfair” for modern sensibilities. Among those set free was one Wendell Beard, who had been serving a life sentence for the murder of real estate broker Beryl Friedrick back in the seventies.

And why not, right? Beard is in his sixties now. How much trouble could he be? Well, he hasn’t exactly put his time to the best use over his first two years of freedom. While a public defender managed to get him off, he’s been charged with multiple counts of assault and burglary. But those were apparently small potatoes for Beard, who has now been brought in with some big league criminal activity. (Baltimore Sun)

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.

How much more of a hint do we need? In his vehicle, they found “various” weapons, handcuffs, a black face mask and a huge supply of fentanyl.

After the 2012 ruling about the validity of the sentences for many of these convicts, prosecutors apparently felt they would be unable to defeat Beard’s appeal for release. Too much time had passed, nobody could locate living family members of the victim, evidence was lost and witnesses were either missing or deceased. So they cut a deal allowing the convicted killer back out on the streets where it seems he promptly went back to his old ways, despite being eligible for Social Security at this point.

Should the prosecutor’s office have known better? Beard’s history didn’t leave much to the imagination, and the murder of Beryl Friedrick was far from his first or only offense. Check out some of his more detailed background. (Emphasis added)

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.

This is the resume of a career gangster who was lost to civil society by being absorbed into the gangs at a very early age. Tragic for a child, but the result was an obvious danger to the community. He had killed at least one person before he even turned 18, a feat that was only one of the dozens of crimes that we know of.

But this isn’t just a story about Wendell Beard, Marilyn Mosby or the City of Baltimore. It’s a reminder that our one-size-fits-all court systems are frequently incapable of handling gang violence problems. Mandatory minimums (as well as maximums in some cases) are problematic to begin with. You don’t want to sweep up minor offenders who may still stand a chance at rehabilitation with the worst of the worst. But at the same time, judges need the ability to evaluate each suspect on their own merits and act accordingly. It doesn’t matter how long Beard had already served. He was a lost cause and the District Attorney’s office seemed to know it. But flaws in our legal system allowed him to wind up back out on the streets and similar stories take place all too often around the nation.

Who could have predicted that Wendell Beard would immediately begin accumulating illegal weapons and drugs upon his release? Probably pretty much anyone who looked at his rap sheet. And if he hadn’t been pulled over on that gun charge, who knows what the next step would have been? We need to do better, and sometimes that may involve sentencing guidelines which will be condemned as “unfair” by activists. Further, judges need more flexibility in these situations, and the ones who consistently use that level of discretion to endanger the public with excessive leniency need to be removed. This is a conversation each state should be having right now.