In the end, it was routine. "The court cannot find that Mr. Wilson would not be a danger to the community," said Superior Court Judge Harriett R. Taylor, softly. With that, she closed her calendar last Thursday evening by ordering Clinton Teddy Wilson jailed without bond pending sentencing.
Wilson swallowed hard, waved wanly to his wife and went off with two marshals through a door. He will spend at least the next five years --and maybe the rest of his life -- in prison.
The plain truth about the Wilson case is that he deserves to. But the case also illustrates the difficulty judges can face when a former criminal who had seemingly reformed backslides.
Clinton Teddy Wilson backslid in a big way. He nearly killed D.C. police officer Robert Moss on Sunday morning, Sept. 27.
Moss surprised Wilson as he was in the process of robbing a Northwest Washington service station at gunpoint. Wilson, who later testified that he was "scared to death," tried to flee.
As he ran, Wilson twice tried to fire a .45 caliber revolver at Moss, at a distance of no more than 25 yards, according to the officer. Both times, the weapon misfired. Moss fired one shot, which missed. About 20 minutes later, other officers found Wilson hiding in a nearby alley, and arrested him.
The case was so perfect from the police department's point of view that it might as well have had a red ribbon tied around it.
Wilson was identified by Moss and by the two cashiers at the station. His record revealed prior convictions for armed robbery and bail jumping. According to Robbery Squad Detective Ron Carpenter, Wilson signed a confession. And he was 37 years old -- an age when men who shoot heavy-duty pistols at policemen know exactly what they're doing.
But if Wilson seemed to be a bad apple, there was this to consider: he had not been arrested in 11 years. He had been employed for the last three -- as a neighborhood worker for the United Planning Organization. He had family in the community.
In the jaded world of Superior Court, where violence is routinely processed day in and day out, Wilson seemed to pose less of a danger to the community than many other armed robbery suspects. So in a hearing on Sept. 28, Superior Court Judge Shellie Bowers ordered Wilson released to the custody of a relative. At a second hearing on Oct. 3, Judge Paul R. Webber III ordered Wilson freed on $1,500 bond.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Otto sought to hold Wilson under the preventive detention statute. And at about the same time, Wilson's attorney, Constance O'Bryant, arranged for Wilson to plead guilty to charges of armed robbery and assault on a police officer.
Like any defendant, Wilson deserves the presumption of innocence, and Judges Bowers and Webber provided it. To look only at his recent history is to see a once-upon-a-time criminal who has been doing better.
But when a defendant with as strong a case against him as Clinton Teddy Wilson is set free for 11 days immediately after the crime, something is very wrong.
Judges are going to have to look beyond job, family and recent history when it comes to releasing suspects. As Judge Taylor said, the very facts of the service station case paint Wilson as a danger to the community, whether he was last a danger in 1970 or two weeks ago.
What would the judges tell the two gas station attendants who lay on the floor of their office for 10 minutes, terrorized by Wilson? That he had apparently reformed?
And what of Robert Moss?
"If his gun had gone off, he couldn't have cared less," said Moss. "I'll never forget seeing him pull the trigger and thinking, 'Oh, no, he's got me. I'm going to die at 24.' "
Through four court hearings, Moss sat in the same room with a man who had tried to kill him. He pronounced that experience "weird." But it only intensified the gratitude he felt when Wilson was jailed.
Moss pumped the hand of prosecutor Otto and thanked him. "This one was for me," Moss said.
It was really for all of us.