The movement to free Marland Deen began only hours after Charles County's top elected official was sent to jail to serve a 60-day term for a misdemeanor conviction of possessing an illegal video poker machine, an episode that the presiding judge called the "ultimate case of corruption."
George Wendell walked into Deen's Little Store here today armed with a petition signed by 20 neighbors of the president of the Charles County commissioners. The petition seeks his immediate release from jail so "he may continue serving the taxpayers of our county."
Deen, who was also acquitted late last night on the other 10 misdemeanor counts he faced, was the last of 17 county residents prosecuted for gambling-related offenses stemming from electronic card games in which players received illegal cash payoffs. Deen immediately began serving his term after the trial.
In passing sentence on Deen, 50, a cowboy-booted Kiwanis man of the year, Circuit Judge C. Clarke Raley said his crime called for a "catharsis for Charles County and its citizens.
"When those who are in power and can exercise power become the intimate acquaintances of those who would like to corrupt, there is a danger to all citizens in Charles County," the judge said.
In his sentencing remarks, Raley also castigated Charles County Sheriff David Fuller, who was called as a defense witness to say he was "confused" about the gambling laws. "He wasn't confused. I would have to be born yesterday to swallow that," the judge said.
Raley, a former state's attorney who prosecuted the killers of Frostburg State student Stephanie Ann Roper, was shifted from his home county of St. Mary's to try the Deen case in La Plata after two local judges declined to hear it.
Today, Raley was back on the bench in Leonardtown, while here in Charles County, citizens digested the news that Deen was behind bars.
At Deen's store, according to clerk Linda Gooding, the phone "has been ringing off the hook. Everyone wants to know what happened, how Marland's doing. I guess he's doing okay. I'm tired."
Wayne Deen, Marland's brother, who was tried at the same time and acquitted on all 11 counts, had gone home early to get some rest, Gooding said.
"It's been pure hell," said Tracy Deen, Wayne Deen's daughter.
"A lot of people around here are quite upset about this and I can understand why," said Daniel W. Gilbson, manager of the Monumental Life Insurance office adjoining the county courthouse in La Plata. "I think it's very unfortunate we have a situation where some people are found guilty of something going on in so many areas unnoticed, so to speak."
Testifying in his own defense, Marland Deen said that "paying off" customers who won on video machines was a routine business practice widely accepted in the county, where slot machines were legal from 1949 to 1968.
The verdict with its overwhelming acquittals had delighted Deen's courtroom supporters, who erupted into applause, and outraged Gerald Ruter, the deputy state special prosecutor, who refused to comment today.
Deen was visibly shaken when it came time to plead his case before Raley. "I am genuinely contrite and sorry for the embarrassment I brought to my family and friends . . . . I am a human being. I hurt. I care . . . . I ask you to be considerate of me and my family . . . . "
Richard Sothoron, Marland Deen's attorney, described his client as "devastated" by the jail term.
Tom Goldsmith, Deen's campaign treasurer and a close friend, also was hurting.
"It broke my heart so bad," said the Charles County sand and gravel man. "He's a remarkable person. If there were two people like him, the world would be twice as good as it is now. I don't know how Charles County got so lucky that he moved from Oklahoma."
Not everyone was so sympathetic. Bill Wroble, owner of Marie's Restaurant, a popular La Plata eatery, said the sentence "renews my confidence in the system. It says that nobody's above the law."
Said State's Attorney Stephen Braun, who prosecuted the other gambling cases in the county, "If you're a public official and you make a mistake, people are going to make you pay more for it."
Braun said he was not politically motivated in bringing the cases against powerful people such as Deen. "It's been a very painful ordeal for the county and many of the people involved," he said, "but I hope the county and the people will learn and we'll all . . . be better for it."