A 34-year-old truck driver was sentenced to 15 years in prison yesterday for kidnapping a 6-year-old Glen Burnie girl from a neighborhoodplayground last December.
Nightmarish memories of the day the child was snatched by Dale Leroy Knight, an admitted cocaine addict, follow the family everywhere -- to school, to the mall, to the big city ballpark and, especially, back to the playground.
Yesterday, after the sentencing, the 41-year-old father said his daughter'schoolwork has suffered; she doesn't get in trouble, but hermind wanders while in the classroom, he explained. He said another daughter, 10, who witnessed the kidnapping, will no longer go unaccompanied to the bathroom in the mall.
"It's to the point now I took the girls to a ballgame and when they went down to get autographs fromthe players, my eyes just didn't leave them. My eyes watched them every inch of the way," the father said. "When they leave, we're antsy until they get back."
Yes, he said, his little girls still go to the playground at Point Pleasant Elementary School, 1035 Dumbarton Road. But now it's in large groups only, and the children don't scatter themselves around the place. They stick together tightly, he said, and they keep an eye out for strangers who would do what Knight did.
Knight is the $8.50-an-hour truck driver who, about 3 p.m. last Dec.9, pulled up to the school playground in a dingy sedan, snatched the6-year-old, stuffed her into his car and drove her to some woods near Elkridge. There, he twice forced her to lie on the ground while he pulled her pants down.
The children at the playground ran to a nearby house and police were called. Three hours later, the abducted girl startled a man working on a house in a secluded area near Elkridge by asking him if she could use the bathroom. The girl told the man she had been taken from a playground, and the man called police.
Police found a green Plymouth stuck in the woods off an unpaved road and, tracing the license plate number, identified Knight as a suspect. He was arrested two days later.
Knight told police he kidnapped thegirl "just to molest her," after becoming sexually aroused by an intravenous blast of cocaine.
"When I do coke I get very horny," Knight told police after his arrest, "so I just went to the school and grabbed that girl. I didn't have no reason behind it."
He said he fondled the girl but did not rape her because he did not want to physically hurt her.
On the day he kidnapped the girl he also tried to kidnap another girl, 5, at a playground on Crainmont Drive, Glen Burnie, prosecutors say. He was also charged with attempting to kidnap a girl in September.
In court yesterday, Knight again blamed his problems on drug abuse -- more specifically, on his decision to graduate from sniffing cocaine to injecting the drug.
"When I shot up, sir,it was a different high," Knight told the judge. "It destroyed my mind."
Psychological reports included in Knight's court file go backto age 13 in tracing his history of drug and alcohol abuse and, in recent years, addiction. The report talks of his using marijuana, cocaine, heroin and PCP. Also mentioned is a 1986 hospitalization for severe depression and drug addiction. He was discharged after 10 days.
"Here's a man who went to the hospital, who said, 'I need help,' " said Knight's attorney, Stephen Sacks. Noting that Knight complained of visual hallucinations and showed signs of a thought disorder, Sacks added, "And yet the hospital lets him go, the hospital sends him back into the community."
After hearing Knight's pleas to be sent for treatment for his drug addiction, Circuit Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr. noted that, statistically, Knight's chances of recovery were not good. "When you are on drugs you are an extremely dangerous individual," Thieme told Knight. And then the judge sentenced him to 15 years, agreeing to recommend that he serve his time at the Patuxent Institution.
Knight, of the 100 block of South Meadow Drive, Glen Burnie, had faced a sentence of 12 to 25 years in prison under a June agreement in which he dropped his insanity defense and pleaded guilty to onecount of kidnapping. Assistant State's Attorney Cynthia M. Ferris said afterward, "I was expecting about 15 years, so I guess I was satisfied."
It was Ferris who had described the crime as "every parent in this room's second-worst nightmare. Children should be safe. Children should be free to play in a playground one block from their home in broad daylight."
After the hearing, the prosecutor explained what she meant by second-worst nightmare: "When she was snatched off the street, those parents thought she would be dead when she was found."
The girl's father said he didn't think 15 years was an adequate sentence. As for Knight's blaming his acts on his drug addiction, thefather said, "To me, that was a cop-out."
The girl's 46-year-old mother declined to comment after yesterday's sentencing, but with herhusband she wrote a letter that was entered into Knight's court file. In the letter, the couple wrote: "We were what was considered a normal family who allowed their children to be children. There was no fear of our children being able to ride bikes or play.
"Now we worryany time the girls are out of our sight," the letter reads. Noting that their younger daughter is in weekly therapy, it continues, "We realize that we have a long way to go before our little girl will be the same as she was before the horrible nightmare happened.
"We prayher growing up years will be as normal as it was before the abduction and we all can put this behind us in time."