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While Mr. Finci said he had sent Ms. Belton-Gofreed a letter outlining the deal in 2002, she said she doesn’t recall agreeing to any plea bargain that would have allowed Howard to avoid serving additional prison time in the Keontaye Smith case.

“There was no reason to negotiate,” she said. “I had the case when he was first charged, then he was snatched by the feds.

“He was supposed to be brought back from D.C. He was supposed to be going to trial. I was gone from the office. I don’t know what happened after that.”

Judge E. Allen Shepherd, who died last year, asked Ms. Gaynor if prosecutors still approved of the deal at Howard’s 2006 plea and sentencing hearing.

“It’s our opinion we can’t change the contract,” Ms. Gaynor replied.

“Are you going to stand up and scream when I impose the sentence?” the judge asked.

“No,” Ms. Gaynor replied, later adding, “It was offered, it was accepted.”

After Judge Shepherd sentenced Howard to eight years for child abuse, prosecutors did not object when Mr. Finci asked that the sentence be served “concurrently with any other sentence that Mr. Howard is serving at the present time.” The judge agreed. By 2006, Howard’s sentence in the Gray case was nearly finished.

On Sept. 14, 2007, Howard was released from federal prison and was set to enter into the federal witness protection program, according to court records.

The U.S. Marshal’s Office, which administers the witness protection program, does not discuss individual cases or confirm whether anyone has entered the program. The Times confirmed Howard’s entry into the program through court records and transcripts in the Keontaye Smith case.

Keontaye’s mother wasn’t so lucky at her sentencing. Like Howard, Smith pleaded guilty to two counts of child abuse but got a six-year prison sentence. Reached by letter last year, she declined to comment for this story. She was recently released from prison, according to court records.

In one of more than a dozen letters she sent to Judge Shepherd, Smith questioned why she was incarcerated while Howard was free. “I know that my association with a proclaimed gang member of Murder Inc., Mr. Frank Howard, is more the reason that I am incarcerated,” she wrote.

Smith’s lawyer, former public defender Nicholas E. Rattal, is now a Prince George’s Circuit judge. He declined to comment for this story. But he previously argued in court papers that Howard “got no jail time” and that “all parties agree” Howard was the “actual physical abuser.”

“I mean, you know, murder is a terrible crime,” Judge Shepherd later explained at a status hearing in the Howard case, “and what happened to this infant is in no way mitigated by reason of the fact that apparently what Mr. Howard was involved with, with a bunch of people downtown, was multiple murders and a lot of other terrible crimes, too.”

“But that was the deal.”