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Man killed in robbery had life sentence; What happened?

Some readers of today's story about a botched street robbery allegedly involving D.C. police Officer Reginald Jones have e-mailed to ask why one of the robbers, Arvel Alston, was out of prison despite having been sentenced to 25 years in 1990.

The public court file of Alston's 1990 case hasn't exactly been meticulously preserved, and certain records of his crime and incarceration are either not public or not readily available.

But this much I know: Alston initially wasn't sentenced to 25 years -- he was sentenced to life without parole.

According to an old Prince George's County police report, Alston, then 21, and an accomplice, William Bruce, were prowling Fairmont Heights in Alston's Nissan Pathfinder on the night of March 28, 1990. Long story short, they wound up standing outside the Pathfinder pointing guns at two other men. Alston and Bruce demanded money from the other men, but the victims didn't have much (about $80, apparently).

After Bruce said to Alston, "Bust 'em," he and Alston opened fire. The man Bruce shot died. Alston's victim -- whose bullet wounds numbered in the low double digits -- survived to testify, according to the report.

Alston and Bruce were convicted of murder and other charges by a Circuit Court jury in Prince George's and sentenced to life in prison without parole eligibility. The convictions eventually were upheld on appeal.

Here, Alston's court record gets a little confusing. The actual files were destroyed after being microfilmed, and some pages evidently were lost. But apparently, years after the convictions, it was discovered that certain witness and/or police statements that should have been turned over to defense lawyers in 1990 had been withheld (purposely or inadvertently) by the police and/or prosecutor.

It's not clear from the record how this was dealt with, but I believe a Circuit Court judge set aside the men's convictions (this was in the late 1990s or early 2000s). Rather than take their chances with a new trial, both sides agreed to plea bargains in which Alston and Bruce would not be subject to life prison terms. Each pleaded guilty and got a new sentence: 25 years (dating, of course, from 1990, when the two were first locked up).

Under Maryland law, inmates earn credits for behaving well behind bars, holding prison jobs, seeking out educational opportunities, etc. The credits come in the form of time subtracted from their sentences. By 2006, Alston had accumulated eight years worth of credits, and so, by law, he had to be let go, in June 2007.

But he was not "free," strictly speaking. He was under the supervision of a Maryland parole officer, and he was to have remained under supervision until his 25-year sentence expired in 2015. As a parolee, if he messed up on the outside (and was caught), he could have been sent back to prison to complete his full sentence.

I can't say what Alston had been up to on the street before the Dec. 1 robbery, or whether he had been abiding by the terms of his release. But in his case, it doesn't matter anymore.

-- Paul Duggan

By Washington Post editors  |  January 11, 2010; 1:31 PM ET
Categories:  From the Post , Homicide , Paul Duggan , The District  
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Like you said, in this case it really doesnt matter. He got a life sentence all right, in a coffin this time and not in a jail cell. I really need these males out here to find something better to do with their time and whatever intelligence they have.

Posted by: breanajohnson0914 | January 15, 2010 1:40 PM | Report abuse

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