It looked serious: The prosecutor and two postal inspectors strode into the federal courtroom, thick documents under their arms. The two defense lawyers were ready. U.S. Magistrate Clarence E. Goetz looked on somberly.
For two hours, they argued and questioned each other about illicit surveillance, arrest procedures, suppression of evidence--and chocolate chip cookies.
The objects of their interest: two burly postal employes accused of eating the cookies taken from a damaged parcel in Baltimore's main post office last Sept. 17.
Officially charged with destruction of mail, Norman E. Wilson, 59, and William Earl Ferguson, 44, appeared before Magistrate Goetz today in a pretrial hearing as their attorneys sought to have the charges thrown out on various technicalities.
Postal inspectors testified that, while secreted in a "lookout gallery" overlooking the post office work floor, they videotaped Wilson and Ferguson as they rummaged through a tin of chocolate chip cookies from a damaged package.
Inspectors said they interrupted the repast, escorted Wilson and Ferguson to interrogation rooms, and after advising them of their rights, obtained written confessions.
Ferguson admitted eating "a couple of cookies." Wilson went further, acknowledging that he also devoured part of a KitKat candy bar. Prosecutors contend they ate more than that.
The two employes, with a combined total of 30 years' service, were suspended, and 2 1/2 months later were charged in federal court with destruction of mail.
Today, Goetz rejected defense arguments that the videotape surveillance violated the employes' "reasonable expectation of privacy" and that their confessions were not voluntary since portions were dictated by the postal inspectors.
Goetz took under advisement an additional argument that the two men were effectively "under arrest" from the moment the inspectors interrupted them on Sept. 17, since they were not given the option to leave.
If they were under arrest, defense attorneys argued, the federal Speedy Trial Act requiring a trial within 30 days should have gone into effect. The two men still have not come to trial, so the case should now be thrown out, they argued.
Prosecutor Glenda G. Gordon countered that surveillance of the post office work floor is conducted routinely and is known generally by postal employes, thus removing any expectation of privacy.
A tentative trial date was set for March 7.