Spending time in jail isn't a particularly pleasant thing to do. But, said attorney Bob Whitestone, if his client learns something from the classes he'll be taking while incarcerated, he may well be able to change his life for the better.
THE CLIENT is Maryland resident Kenneth John Dias III, 19, who was arrested in connection with the Oct. 13, 2006 stabbing of a 16-year-old Fairfax boy inside Fair Oaks Mall.
Believing the incident was gang-related, Fairfax County police charged Dias with malicious wounding and gang participation. The malicious-wounding charge was later dropped but, on Friday, Dias was sentenced to a year in jail on the gang charge.
"This defendant was a member of a gang," said Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Casey Lingan. "This kind of behavior can't be tolerated, and he needs to be punished accordingly."
The victim walked into the mall that evening, around 6:30 p.m., with two other Fairfax males, ages 21 and 14. As he entered, he bumped into Dias who, according to police, "stabbed the 16-year-old in the midsection, knocking him to the ground." Dias fled, but the victim and his two acquaintances chased him, and police apprehended Dias inside the mall a short while later.
After the incident, police spokeswoman Shelley Broderick said Dias and the victim "knew of each other because they were both in gangs." And Whitestone said investigation revealed that everyone involved in the altercation "was armed with knives — even the victim and his companion."
Dias' version of the event also differed from the victim's. Whitestone said the two of them had had a previous dispute at an alternative school.
"AT THE MALL, Dias was alone and was confronted by three young men," said the attorney. "He said he saw the other guy reach for a weapon, so he pulled a knife and the other guy got stabbed. But he was defending himself."
After that, said Whitestone, the victim and his companions pursued Dias into the Sears department store, where he was then arrested. The victim was treated at Inova Fairfax Hospital for non-life-threatening injuries.
Dias was indicted by the grand jury in November on the gang-participation charge and pleaded guilty to it Dec. 27 in Circuit Court. He returned Friday, Feb. 23, for sentencing before Judge Gaylord Finch.
Whitestone presented letters from Dias' relatives, written on his behalf, and he told the judge his client was 18 when the crime occurred. He said Dias has been in jail since Oct. 14 and, when he's released from custody, will live with his father in Clinton, Md.
"He was confronted by a known gang member and two friends, and he was not the initial aggressor," said Whitestone. "The problem was that he was giving gang signs and made some comments."
He said Dias had no adult criminal record until now and is attempting to make positive changes in his life. "He's been a model prisoner in jail," said the attorney. "And he was selected out of 1,500 inmates for the sheriff's program in which he'll go to schools and talk to kids to deter them from gangs. He'll even continue doing this when he's released."
Whitestone said Dias had signed up to have his gang tattoos removed and had enrolled in anger-management classes. "It's unfortunate that he was involved in this," said Whitestone. "He's trying to get away from the gang."
Dias then stood and spoke prior to sentencing. "This is my first time being incarcerated as an adult," he said. "I'm sorry. I was a former gang member, but I was trying to make changes in my life. I really want to help other people and want to make parents aware of the dangers of gang involvement."
FINCH THEN sentenced Dias to three years in prison, suspending all but 12 months. Since convicted felons generally serve 85 percent of their time, that gives Dias a 10-month sentence. And because he's already been in jail for four months, he just has six months left to serve.
The judge also placed Dias on three years active probation, ordering him to "maintain full-time employment and obtain your GED." Finch also told him he must be evaluated for whatever substance-abuse programs his probation officer recommends and "have no further gang involvement whatsoever, as a strict condition of your probation."
Afterward, outside the courtroom, Whitestone said he thought the sentence was fair. "As a defense attorney, you'd always like the sentence to be less, but Judge Finch is a very fair person. My client signed up for a number of programs in jail — such as Life Skills, Financial Planning and Crime Avoidance — that will help him when he gets out."
"He's a very young man, and it's certainly possible that his selection to speak to kids may have had an impact on his sentence," continued Whitestone. "I'm satisfied with what the judge did."