It doesn't pay to be a wise ass in Arizona.
Robert Carter, the state's most famous hot-dog salesman, was sentenced to 12 years in prison last week for escape and violating his probation.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Steven Sheldon was harsher than Carter expected, apparently because the judge looked askance at Carter's participation in a stunt with New Times that set up state Attorney General Grant Woods.
Last summer, you may recall, Carter was featured in a cover photograph selling a hot dog to Woods from a stand in front of the Madison Street Jail.
An escapee from the county's work release program, Carter had called the paper boasting that he could sell hot dogs right under the noses of his former jailers. Given the jail's ongoing problems with escapes, we took him up on the offer.
Carter also suggested that it might be ironic, and a bit entertaining, if he was photographed selling a dog to the state's highest law enforcement official. New Times arranged to have Woods drop by the hot-dog stand by telling the attorney general he would be posing for a promotional photograph.
The resulting picture (Attorney General Poses With Escaped Convict," July 21) was reprinted in several national magazines.
On March 22, Carter paid the price.
In a phone call from jail after his sentencing, Carter said Sheldon told him he found the stunt "reprehensible," and that the photo shoot had put Woods' very life in danger.
(Sheldon did not return a phone call seeking comment on the case.)
The judge then sentenced Carter to eight years for violating his probation on a felony theft charge--the charge that had originally landed Carter in jail. Sheldon stacked four more years on top of that for the escape.
With time served and other possible reductions, Carter says he figures to be in the state pen for about seven years, two more than his public defender had told him he was likely to receive.
"I can do the time, but I didn't expect to get really slammed like this," Carter says. "You can get less time for murder or robbery."
Ironically, Carter was making arrangements to turn himself in just days before he was arrested, says Phoenix attorney Mike Vaughn.
Immediately after the photo session, Carter went on the lam and spent four months hiding out in California before someone who had seen the photograph recognized him. He was arrested in San Diego and extradited back to Phoenix.
Vaughn testified at Carter's sentencing that Carter had called him several times before his arrest, attempting to arrange a voluntary surrender.
"He contacted me and we probably had three or four different conversations," Vaughn says. "He wanted to be able to turn himself in and negotiate with the prosecutor for a plea bargain. He just wanted to get on with his life. As a matter of fact, he got arrested a day or two before he was to fly into Phoenix and I was to meet him."
Vaughn told the judge about Carter's attempted surrender, he says, but it apparently did not carry much weight with Sheldon. Vaughn says the only questions Sheldon asked him concerned how long after the photo session Carter waited before starting efforts to give himself up.
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The 12-year sentence, Vaughn says, seems "a little steep," given Carter's charges. Though Carter has a string of felony theft charges on his record, he has no convictions for violent crimes.
His escape did not entail anything as dramatic as that of the four inmates who rappelled down the side of the Madison Street Jail earlier this month. Carter simply walked away from a work furlough program.
But posing for the picture seems to have irked the judge enough to hit Carter hard.
"I think for anybody to want to punish this man any more for that [the picture] seems a bit much," Vaughn says. "But clearly, the judge can take into consideration any factor that he deems appropriate in sentencing any defendant.