As the grisly details of a cocaine smuggling ring unfolded one day recently in the modern courtroom, U.S. District Judge James R. Miller Jr. took copious notes, stopping the testimony at one point to spell "peyote," a hallucinatory drug, for the puzzled court reporter.
It seemed like a normal day of criminal hearings for Miller, generally regarded as one of the hardest-working of the 11 federal judges in Baltimore. But at each recess, he vanished quickly through a rear door into his quarters, which are sealed from the public by a security door and an electronic surveillance camera.
While security is always tight at the federal courthouse, the protection afforded Judge Miller is of special concern. Two weeks ago the FBI revealed that Miller's wife had been kidnaped and assaulted by a man in his late 20s believed to be acting in retribution for one of Miller's judgments.
Few additional details of the incident, which took place more than two months ago, were released. The FBI would only say that on Oct. 10, Jo Anne Miller was abducted from the front of her home in the exclusive Roland Park section, assaulted and then let go later that day.
Mystery and unanswered questions surround the incident, which was not reported immmediately to authorities.
It is not known which case of Miller's sparked the kidnaping or what harm his wife suffered. Federal authorities would not explain why the incident was not immediately reported or why there was a such a long delay in making the crime public. The FBI, which has appealed to the city at large for tips, but refuses to discuss the case, has offered a hefty $10,000 reward for information leading to an indictment.
A composite drawing of a suspect in his late twenties has been reproduced by the thousands and distributed throughout the city. The Millers' neighbors have been questioned about whether they saw the white, mid-sized car the suspect is believed to have used.
The secrecy surrounding the crime has angered Baltimore police who feel federal authorities lost valuable time and leads by keeping them in the dark.
City police were unaware of the kidnaping until the FBI's public announcement. "We could have had 60 more days looking for this bird," police spokesman Dennis Hill said of the suspect.
"When someone bypasses me, I'm distressed," acknowledged Charles Douglas, the police sergeant in charge of Post 21, which includes Roland Park. "I feel as though I can't do my job." Added patrolman Joseph Weber, who spends four hours daily watching Roland Park, "It disturbs me that we weren't told."
The city has beefed up security in Roland Park and "every patrolman is looking for that collar," declared Douglas. "Except for being plagued by burglaries, this is a normal, stable, quiet community. I can't think of anything worse to happen in my 20 years here."
Although agents were not visible in his courtroom or outside his home on a recent day, Miller and his family are being guarded by the U.S. marshal's office.
Marshal John W. Spurrier said the extra coverage began in late October, after Miller reported the kidnaping to him.
Because of its apparent relation to Miller's actions as a judge, the attack on his wife is being considered an assault on a federal officer Miller and the reward is offered through a special FBI fund for informants, said Raymond Sprague, bureau spokesman in Baltimore.
The startling kidnap--executed at midday on a Saturday in the shrub-covered entrance to the Miller's three-story yellow home--has raised new questions about the perils faced by judges and the effect of intimidation from those appearing before them.
"Who wants to be a judge?" asked Baltimore attorney Peter Angelos, a resident of Roland Park who appears before Judge Miller frequently.
"Subconsciously, a judge will hold back if someone thinks his family is going to be harmed."
The former U.S. attorney in Baltimore, George Bell, said there have been an increasing number of threats on federal judges, but said "none had any noticeable affect on their judgments or performance."
A year before the attack, a former history teacher and sometime political candidate in Baltimore received a suspended three-year sentence for including death threats against Miller and his family in papers he filed in a civil suit before the judge.
"These confrontations are unavoidable because of the type of people and cases the court is obliged to deal with," Bell said. "The judges approach this somewhat stoically as part of the job description." But, he added, "There's shock and surprise over this particular incident because it involved his wife and that's distasteful."
News of the kidnaping has raised anger among the city's legal community and fear within the Miller's neighborhood.
Roland Park, a five-square mile neighborhood in north Baltimore, is full of distinctive older homes, many of them mansions. It was one of the first planned communities in the United States, and the residents take pride in the fact it was designed in 1895 by Frederick Olmstead, one of the creators of New York's Central Park.
"We women are home with the children alone, and I'm convinced people are watching our movements," said Bonnie Jones, a neighbor of the Millers who is one of many whose home has been burglarized in the last six months.
Another neighbor, who stopped outside Victor's Gourmet Shop, added, "The Millers haven't had an easy time in Roland Park. Four years ago, when they were gone for half an hour, thieves broke in, stole everything and maced their dog. We knew the FBI had been talking around the neighborhood, but we thought it was for threats on his life."
Roberta Shoemaker, who runs the Roland Park food co-op from her basement, expressed the common hope that the suspect is apprehended quickly. "We can't have our judges under threat for carrying out the law. It's so horrible to have some warped idea of justice taken out on his family.