The co-founder of an Annapolis-based support group for incest victims was convicted yesterday of fondling two young women, including one who was being counseled by the organization and lived at the man's home.
David B. Fulghum, 42, was given two suspended 30-day jail sentences, three years of supervised probation and a $1,000 fine. He faced four counts of fourth-degree sexual offense, all misdemeanors, and was found not guilty on two of the charges.
The conviction will probably mean the end of the Onionskin Collective, the incest victim support group founded in 1989 by Fulghum and his live-in girlfriend, Gloria Arnold, who testified she herself was a victim of incest. One of the young women Fulghum fondled is Arnold's niece.
"The court can find no reason to understand why the four young women would get together and make this up," said District CourtJudge James W. Dryden, who heard the case without a jury in Glen Burnie.
Dryden said he believed the women's stories and said Fulghum took advantage of his position with the support group to make sexual advances, which included stroking the woman's buttocks, breasts and kissing one woman on her neck.
"In the unique situation of this case, the defendant was quite aware of what the women had experienced intheir past and was aware how easily their decision-making abilities could be overcome," Dryden said. "He had special knowledge about these girls, and they had knowledge about him.
"I was especially surprised by his testimony that he does hug the girls and doesn't pay attention to where his hands go. I understand what he meant, love, affection. But with these people, it is important to know where your hands go."
The judge dismissed the sexual assault charge brought by the 15-year-old, also a relative of Arnold's, because the girl testified that Fulghum put his hands under her shirt, but did not touch her body. He said that did not constitute assault.
The fourth woman also had her complaint dismissed, in part because she testified she did not feel she was abused, but said Fulghum "crossed her boundaries."
In arguing for a prison term, Anne Colt Leitess, an assistant state'sattorney, said the judge should look at Fulghum's entire character, including the couple's admission to smoking marijuana at their home and drinking alcohol despite being recovering alcoholics.
"When it happened with Mr. Fulghum, it hurt that much more," Leitess said. "They trusted him. They didn't want to talk about their abuse. But Mr. Fulghum was interested. He wanted to know the details."
She said itwas while the women were talking and crying about their experiences with incest, Fulghum "moved in for the kill. . . . I think we need tosend a message, not only to this defendant, but to any person who may come in contact with young women, that they cannot test the waters for a sexual relationship by fondling them."
Fulghum, who took thestand yesterday morning and afternoon, denied touching any of the young women in an inappropriate manner. "I have not touched any of the four women with the intent to seek sexual gratification," he said.
The graduate of Boston University with a master's degree in broadcasting and public relations said he was responsible for promoting and writing newsletters for the non-profit group. He said he did not participate in support sessions, though "incest and childhood sexual abusewas a dominate subject in our home. We talked about these subjects constantly."
Both he and Arnold said they had no formal training indealing with incest or sexual abuse.
Arnold testified yesterday that her chance to start a support group came 3 1/2 years ago when shemet Fulghum at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. She said he providedthe financial backing and eventually left a public relations firm todevote all his time to the collective.
Arnold testified that neither she nor Fulghum drew a salary, but lived off of Fulghum's recent inheritance.
The woman Fulghum fondled, now a student at Anne Arundel Community College, came to live with the couple after seeing Arnold on a late-night talk show, Arnold said.
The woman testified shewas abused by Fulghum during two weeks when Arnold was visiting on the Eastern Shore.
Arnold said she "was horrified" when she first heard the allegations against her future husband, and even separated from him for two weeks before moving back in. "I had come to the conclusion he was innocent."
Fulghum's attorney, Alan H. Legum, said inhis closing arguments that the state did not prove its case. "There are so many doubts, so many questions. . . . What we are left with isreasonable doubt that Mr. Fulghum is responsible for any criminal activity."
But the 20-year-old victim, who spoke before Fulghum was sentenced, said she was scared it would happen to some other woman. "It's a fact he will do it again," the young woman said. "I trusted him once. How do I trust him now?"