In 1978, five men were arrested in "the biggest drug-smuggling case in Virginia history."

Police confiscated more than $10 million in marijuana and $1.8 million in cash that filled four suitcases.

Subsequently, the five men were tried, convicted and sentenced to prison terms of from 10 to 12 years.

The case took an unusual turn when Cumberland County chief prosecutor James P. Baber said attorneys representing the five had offered to make a "donation" to the county of $1 million in cash (in addition to the $1.8 million already confiscated) if charges against them were dropped. Baber this week described the lawyers as "kings of the Virginia bar."

Fairfax County Commonwealth Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr., who had at Baber's request helped prosecute the case, said of the offer, "When I first heard it, I thought it was a gag."

The case was back in the news this week when it was revealed that two of the men had been freed after serving one year of their terms and a third man had been set free after serving 13 months of a 12-year sentence.

To his credit, Rep. Robin L. Beard (R-Tenn.) immediately called for an investigation into why the three men had been freed. Beard called the action "the most blatant example of judicial leniency" he had encountered in a major drug case. But Baber explained that the three were "clean-cut boys" who "didn't look like criminal types."

Gee, I hadn't realized that it is possible to look at a person and know whether he is a "criminal type."

I hope Beard's investigation will give us details about this. It would be useful to know what criminals look like.

For example, do they have big ears? Freckles? Eyes set close together? A guilty look?

If you knew the telltale clues, when a stranger asked you what time it is you'd know whether he just wants the time or he intends to steal your watch.

Wouldn't that be handy?