- The Washington Times - Monday, April 17, 2006

For more than 17 years, John Linwood Hall Sr. appeared to stay out of trouble with the law. He also appeared to hold down a steady job as a maintenance worker and to be an available, though apparently not a totally responsible, parent.

Yesterday, the 56-year-old Hall, who has an extensive criminal record dating back to 1968, was charged with another violent crime. A malicious knife wounding charge was his second encounter with the law this year.

So, how long does Hall deserve the right to remain free? Not another day.

Hall already is awaiting trial on charges stemming from a January incident at the For Kids We Care day care center in Germantown. In that case, his 7-year-old son took a loaded .38-caliber handgun in his backpack to the before-school program. The weapon discharged while the boy was fiddling with it, and a bullet struck one of his classmates “inches away from her heart,” the Montgomery County prosecutor said at the time.

The 8-year-old girl, a second-grader at S. Christa McAuliffe Elementary School, was fortunate not to have suffered a serious injury from the wound in her upper arm.

Whatever happened to caterpillars and crickets for show-and-tell?

In January, the father was released on bail and moved in with his sister nearby. The son was placed in state custody and the charges against him were dropped. No doubt, a mother was left sick with second-guessing and worry.

You might think this close call might be fair warning for Hall, who maintains that he is not responsible in any way, shape or form for his son’s “accident.” Think again. Hall turned himself in yesterday after Montgomery County police issued an arrest warrant on charges of first- and second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and carrying a deadly weapon with the intent to injure — of all people — his son’s mother.

Now Hall stands accused of using a small knife to stab his ex-girlfriend, Debbie Shipp, 37, outside her Gaithersburg apartment Thursday evening. No motive was given, but I’m certain several can be conjured up easily. Mind you, that’s the same apartment in the 8500 block of Snouffer School Road in which Hall once shared a bedroom with his son. That’s the same bedroom from which, police say, his son removed the handgun from a hat box in the closet.

Prosecutors proffered that Hall taught his son how to cock and fire the weapon the day before the shooting at the day care center. They also said he showed violent videos to his son. The father denies the prosecutor’s account, and his attorney said there is another side to the story, though she did not elaborate.

As further evidence of abdication and denial of parental responsibility, Hall’s sister said the boy learned to handle the weapon from video games featuring rapper 50 Cent. Wonder who bought him that wholesome instructional material?

Some reports indicate that the son had been making threatening remarks, even about killing police, before the day care shooting. Who else was he parroting?

Speaking on WUSA-TV (Channel 9) yesterday, Montgomery County State’s Attorney Douglas F. Gansler rightfully raised the issue of why Hall, a felon, was released on bail in the first place. He said a judge reduced bail from $750,000 to $75,000, which Mr. Hall was able “somehow to make.” When Hall appears before a judge today, his bail should be revoked and he should be held pending his trials. The first is in May, for leaving a firearm accessible to a minor, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and possession of a firearm by a felon.

Authorities have since added felony charges of possession of a handgun and illegal transfer of a firearm, for which a judge set a $50,000 bail. In Maryland, gun possession by a felon carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison.

Twice a warning, but apparently to no avail for Hall. Do we also consider adding domestic violence to the long list of unlawful behavior involving Hall given this latest charge? Good thing Ms. Shipp’s neighbors heard her pleas for help Thursday. Good thing she was able to be treated on the scene and not carried away on a stretcher, or worse.

Police said Ms. Shipp tried to escape Hall, but he followed her, punched her in the face and stabbed her as she banged on the doors of other apartments until someone called 911. Hall fled before police arrived.

Studies indicate that domestic violence escalates with each instance. Did no one see this attack coming? Who will protect this woman should Hall be released? Is his son even safe?

Etched as the bedrock canon of the U.S. legal code is the guarantee that a person is innocent until proved guilty. The accused is entitled to a fair and speedy trial. The convicted should not have to endure “cruel or unusual punishment.” Defendants should be free pending trial if it is determined that they are not at risk of flight or do not show a clear and present danger to society in the interim.

“As a general rule, a person who has a felony conviction who is found in possession of a firearm — particularly where that firearm is used to shoot an innocent 7-year-old girl in a day care center — should be held without bond until trial,” Mr. Gansler told The Washington Times.

With this latest charge, Hall has demonstrated that he is a danger to society. He has earned the right to remain in jail.

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