Two postal employes who were convicted of destroying mail by eating some chocolate chip cookies and a candy bar from damaged parcels at the main post office here were sentenced by a federal magistrate today to a year's probation and 100 hours of community service.
U.S. Magistrate Daniel E. Klein Jr. imposed the probationary sentence on the two men, Norman Edward Wilson, 59, and William Earl Ferguson, 44, saying that jail time or fines would be unduly harsh.
Klein added that the two already had suffered substantial punishment from an "inordinate amount of media coverage" at the time of their trial last month.
The trial in March attracted extensive television and newspaper coverage in which defense lawyers, calling it a simple "cookies and candy" case, were pitted against federal prosecutors who countered that it involved the "integrity of the U.S. mail and the sanctity of the seal" on mail entrusted to the Postal Service.
The trial was "cast largely in a humorous light" by the media, prosecutor Glenda G. Gordon complained to Klein today, saying that such treatment undermined the deterrent effect of the publicity.
The two men, both longtime employes in the main Baltimore Post Office, were charged with destroying mail last Sept. 17, after postal inspectors said they spotted the men nibbling on the cookies and a KitKat candy bar in the "re-wrap section" of the post office where they were assigned to repair damaged parcels.
Inspectors, who had binoculars and a video camera, testified they saw Ferguson eat a small but undetermined number of chocolate chip cookies from a package intended for a college student in Pennsylvania. They said he passed some of the cookies to his work partner, Wilson, and later removed a KitKat bar from a second, "decoy" package planted by inspectors. Wilson ate a portion of the bar, they said.
Both men admitted eating the food. Ferguson said he "just wasn't thinking" and meant no harm. Wilson said he thought the items were "goodies" Ferguson had brought from home.
Before the two men were sentenced today, Magistrate Klein noted that both were "family-type people" with good work records and "clean" backgrounds. "There is no evidence that you are 'bad people,' quote-unquote," Klein said.
Before the trial, defense attorneys contended the post office wanted to prosecute the two men, rather than take administrative action against them, to make it easier to fire them, but Klein barred any testimony on that subject at the trial.
Both men are suspended from their jobs and are appealing their status through a postal grievance procedure.