A Baltimore man pleaded guilty yesterday to second-degree rape -- to keep his 14-year-old victim from going to jail for refusing to testify against him.
The man, whose identity is being withheld to protect the victim, was charged with having sexual intercourse 25 to 30 times with his sister-in-law, now 14. The girl, who lives in Glen Burnie, was 9 years old when the sexual relations began, prosecutor Cynthia M. Ferris said.
But the victim, who says she loves the 25-year-old defendant, refused to testify against him during his trial in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, prompting Judge Eugene M. Lerner to threaten the girl with jail for contempt of court.
Ms. Ferris and defense attorney David P. Henninger had already selected a jury and made opening arguments. Ms. Ferris warned the jury during opening arguments that the middle school student might not cooperate.
"She's formed a misguided loyalty to him," Ms. Ferris said.
Despite warnings from the judge, the victim refused to answer the questions while on the stand.
Judge Lerner sent the jury out of the courtroom before questioning the girl. "Do you want to go to jail, young lady?" he asked her.
"No, Your Honor, I don't."
"Well then, you'll answer the questions."
"No, Your Honor, I won't."
The attorneys were flustered. Ms. Ferris said later that she had no case without the girl's testimony.
The girl's mother, wringing her hands, called across the courtroom, "You're going to go to jail for him?"
Pointing to an attorney sitting in the courtroom for another matter, Judge Lerner drafted attorney Peter O'Neill into service, telling him to talk to the girl.
Relatives from both families darted into the hall. When they returned minutes later, the defendant, who had insisted on pleading not guilty, had changed his mind. He had decided to plead guilty to spare the girl from going to jail, his lawyer informed the judge.
The girl jumped from her seat, shouting "No!" and a string of obscenities.
Again, the families ran for the hall. Guards bolted after them. Ms. Ferris told the judge she would recommend a sentence of five years with all but two years suspended, and that the state's attorney's office would drop the contempt of court charge against the girl in exchange for the guilty plea. The maximum penalty for second-degree rape is 20 years, she said.
Judge Lerner imposed the sentence, giving the defendant credit for time served since his arrest Jan. 29. He also imposed four years of supervised probation, stipulating that the defendant could have no contact with the girl until she was at least 16, the legal age for consent. Judge Lerner also ruled that the defendant would submit to psychological counseling.
The incidents, which led to charges in both Anne Arundel County and Baltimore City, occurred from about 1987 to last October, when the girl ran away from home, Ms. Ferris said. Several weeks after the girl was reported missing, police located her and she confided in them that her brother-in-law had repeatedly had sex with her.
Mr. Henninger said his client was arrested after an investigation of several months. The man was charged in Baltimore because the incidents allegedly took place at both the defendant's and the girl's residences.
The defendant is still married to the girl's sister and the couple has two children. He is scheduled for trial in Baltimore on June 29, Mr. Henninger said.
As the man was led out in chains past the girl's mother, she shouted, "I hate you!"
The defendant, who has a sixth-grade education and said he could "read and write a little," shot back, "Good. Me too."
Ms. Ferris said that the Department of Social Services would help work out a permanent placement for the girl, who has run away numerous times and had been placed in an educational program for troubled youths in Anne Arundel County.