Law enforcement officials in Southern Maryland described 1999 as a quiet year for crime in the region, although Calvert County posted a 14.8 percent increase in the first half of 1999 that authorities there blamed on the county's rapid growth.

Despite the relative quiet, the year had some high-profile court cases. Among them were the August conviction of Keith Allen Green in the 1997 death of 13-year-old Claudia Pickeral; a judge's decision in February to release a Sunderland man from prison after he was wrongfully convicted of murder; and the September arrest of St. Mary's head basketball coach Coatlen Othell Wilson on kidnapping and rape charges.

In two of Southern Maryland's counties--Charles and St. Mary's--violent crime decreased during the first half of the year, according to the uniform crime statistics report compiled by the Maryland State Police. Charles Sheriff Fred Davis (R) and St. Mary's Sheriff Richard J. Voorhaar (R) said they expected the downward trend to continue. There were just five homicides in Southern Maryland this year; Charles County registered two of them, its lowest total since 1986.

"This year seems to have been fairly quiet--knock on wood--which is great," said Capt. Samuel Graves, commander of Charles County's criminal investigations division.

Calvert County saw a 14.8 percent increase in violent crime during the first half of the year, according to the uniform crime report statistics for January through June, the most recent period for which figures have been compiled. Calvert County saw its biggest increase in the number of robberies--20 during the first half of 1999, compared with five in the same period of 1998--and aggravated assaults, which went from 66 in the first half of 1998 to 102 in 1999.

Calvert Sheriff's Capt. Robert R. Hampshire said the county's rapid growth was likely a contributing factor to its rising crime rate; 12,000 new residents have moved to the county over the last five years, according to state population estimates.

All counties reported an increase in "calls for service," the agencies said.

Hampshire said that the biggest concern of the Calvert sheriff's office remains traffic congestion and speeding along Route 4, and that his agency continues to step up traffic enforcement efforts.

Sheriff's deputies have issued 4,990 traffic citations from Jan. 1 through Dec. 12, 1999, compared with 3,327 tickets issued through the end of 1998.

A crash involving teenagers who police said were playing a high-speed chase game on Rousby Hall Road south of Lusby eventually claimed four lives. Three teenagers in one of the cars were killed in the Jan. 27 crash, and the driver of a U-Haul truck with which they collided died later.

In April, the 17-year-old driver of the other car in the speed contest was placed on four years of supervised probation after a judge found the juvenile was involved in reckless driving in the incident.

In February, a jubilant Anthony Gray walked out of the Calvert County Courthouse a free man after serving seven years in prison for a murder authorities now believe he did not commit.

Gray, 32, had been charged as an accomplice in the 1991 death of Linda Mae Pellicano, a 38-year-old housewife who was stabbed and raped in her Chesapeake Beach home in 1991. Gray was convicted after he confessed to his role as an accomplice in the murder and was sentenced to two life terms in prison; two others charged at the time eventually were acquitted. Then, in 1997, another man, Anthony G. Fleming, pleaded guilty to killing Pellicano after his DNA matched evidence taken from the victim's body.

Visiting Prince George's County Judge Graydon S. McKee III ruled that Gray had received ineffective counsel from his former attorney and that the state did not have the evidence to convict him at a new trial.

Afterward, Gray told reporters, "I feel great." His attorney said recently that Gray has since found a job and is engaged to be married.

Of the region's five homicides, three resulted from domestic confrontations.

By the end of 1999, two men had been charged in connection with the April shooting death of Paul S. McDonald, 52, a resident of the Carrington neighborhood in Waldorf. Charles Andre Durham, 21, of Waldorf, was charged in July, and Brian Keith Carter, 19, also of Waldorf, was indicted by a Charles County grand jury last month. McDonald's wife and daughter had returned from shopping to find the computer technician shot and lying with his hands restrained on the living room floor of his University Drive home.

Police theorized at the time that McDonald had been shot in a botched burglary attempt. The state's attorney said at the time of Durham's arrest that he allegedly used McDonald's automated teller machine card to get $300 in cash shortly after McDonald was shot. The case is tentatively set for trial in May.

One of the biggest stories in St. Mary's County was the September arrest of Wilson, the St. Mary's College basketball coach. The former University of Virginia star guard and former National Basketball Association player was charged with abducting and raping his former girlfriend, a 20-year-old college student. The charges allege that Wilson held her captive through a weekend at his St. Inigoes apartment, repeatedly raping her. Wilson faces trial early this year.

St. Mary's Sheriff Richard J. Voorhaar (R) said that he was pleased with the county's 15 percent drop in violent crime for the first half of 1999, but remained concerned about the increase in reported incidents of domestic violence in the county, up to 263 from 243 in 1998. St. Mary's County was the only Southern Maryland county reporting an increase in that category. Voorhaar said that he hoped to be able to address the problem by extending the grant-funded position for a deputy specially assigned to abuse cases and by adding other staff when he can.

Voorhaar said one of the year's highlights was the conviction in August of Keith Allen Green, the Avenue man who was arrested last year in the death of 13-year-old Claudia Pickeral. Pickeral was a Leonardtown Middle School student who was strangled on her way home from the school bus stop in February 1997.

Green was convicted of second-degree murder, ending the long, contentious saga that had pitted supporters of the girl's family against law enforcement authorities, who eventually admitted that they had been hampered in building a case against Green by mistakes made in the early stages of the investigation. In November, Green was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

"It was the proper closure and long overdue," Voorhaar said. "It brought relief to the family, our office and the people of St. Mary's County."

CAPTION: Caskets of teenagers Michael Vito and Jacqueline Rose are carried to their graves in Dunkirk last February. Vito, Rose and a classmate died in a traffic accident that also claimed the life of the driver of the truck hit by the students' car.

CAPTION: Upon release in February from wrongful imprisonment, Anthony Gray, right, and his mother, Corine Reed, walk with supporters.