Taneytown sex offender appeals to Supreme Court

December 01, 1992|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff Writer

A Taneytown farmer serving 50 years in prison for sexually abusing his oldest daughter is taking his case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In papers filed last week, the 54-year-old man has asked the nation's highest court to overturn his March 1990 conviction on six criminal counts involving sexual abuse.

The man claims he was coerced into making involuntary confessions to a counselor and a state trooper that were used as evidence against him in court. Maryland's appellate courts rejected that contention.

"In this case, in an extremely sophisticated form of interrogation, the prosecutor and the police acted in concert with the therapist to induce [the man] not only to reveal the names of his victims, but to then elaborate on the details of their statements to the police," wrote defense attorney Judith S. Stainbrook in her filing with the court.

The man, whose name is being withheld to protect the identity of his daughter, sought counseling after the abuse -- which lasted nine years -- was brought to the attention of his family.

The abuse was revealed in June 1989 by his oldest daughter, then 29, when she became concerned for the safety of a 9-year-old niece, for whom her father was to baby-sit.

Before he received counseling, the man was asked to sign a waiver that gave his counselor the right to relate any information about child sexual abuse to police and prosecutors.

Uncertain whether to sign the form, the man called Assistant State's Attorney Kathi Hill for advice. It was Ms. Hill who ultimately prosecuted him.

Ms. Hill's advice, according to the Supreme Court filing, was to get the counseling.

"Well, you should go and take your counseling right now, that's the first thing," she told him, according to papers filed in the case. "It's been a long time since this occurred, but I cannot give you advice because I'm a prosecutor."

Ms. Hill could not be reached for comment yesterday. In the past, she has said she believes that her statements to the man were not an inducement and that she was not attempting to give him any advice.

The man's confessions were used as key evidence at his jury trial. While the confessions revealed his abuse of several of his daughters, he was convicted only of abusing the oldest.

The "advice" from Ms. Hill, and two later subsequent interrogations by a state trooper, forced the man into confessing his crimes, Ms. Stainbrook argues in her Supreme Court filing.

"Knowing that [the man] was trapped between fear of prosecution on the one hand and a desperate need for counseling on the other, the prosecutor gave him the ultimately fatal advice," Ms. Stainbrook wrote.

Both the Court of Special Appeals, in August 1991, and the Court of Appeals, in August 1992, rejected that argument.

Ms. Stainbrook said yesterday that she believes the issue is an important one for the Supreme Court to consider.

"What I am trying to emphasize is the question of how far the state can collude with health-care providers in inducing confessions," she said. "What is not before the court directly is, where is someone to go if they need counseling but anything they say in that counseling will be turned over to police?"

The Supreme Court could refuse to hear the case and reject Ms. Stainbrook's arguments, it could agree to hear the case, or it could overturn the rulings of Maryland's two highest courts and send the case back to Carroll Circuit Court.

Four days before the man filed his petition to the Supreme Court, a Carroll Circuit judge denied his request for a lighter sentence.

Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr., who heard the man's request on Dec. 14, 1990, upheld the 50-year sentence even though it was twice as long as recommended under state sentencing guidelines.

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