Prince George's County Circuit Court Judge Howard S. Chasanow could have sentenced Jacqueline Datcher to 18 months in prison or a $500 fine for eating two strawberries in a supermarket last February.
Instead, yesterday the judge placed Datcher, convicted June 26 of shoplifting the strawberries on probation for six months and ruled that the only time she will have to serve will be a half day next Monday working in the Marlyland park system.
After Datcher was convicted newspapers and broadcasting stations were deluged with phone calls and letters from people who found the conviction for eating two cents worth of merchandise outlandish.
Jumbo Food Market, which decided to press charges against Datcher, expressed regret that the case had gone to court, saying the whole thing was a misunderstanding.
The misunderstandings began last February when Datcher was arrested at Jumbo's Eastern Avenue store by a security detective who allegedly spotted her downing the two strawberries.
Store officials said later they only pressed charges because they were under the impression that Datcher had attempted to steal more than the strawberries.
But the 12-member jury heard the case in June took it seriously, convicting Datcher, 33, of shoplifting after hearing her version of the story and the security man's. Each claimed the other had been abusive after the security man approached Datcher.
Datcher maintains that she never ate the strawberries - which are valued at two cents - while the detective, R. M. Smith and prosecutor Gary Courtois insisted she did.
Datcher had one previous conviction on her record, as an accomplice in a $243 robbery in a supermarket where she worked in 1973. The new conviction will be stricken from her record following her probation and her community service, according to Chasanow.
Datcher's lawyer, Samuel Ochipinti, remarked yesterday. "I'll tell you, I've had murder cases that didn't get me a word in print. This two-cent case has gotten me more attention than anything."