Sex offender gets 10-year term Football coach molested 2 players

April 23, 1993|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff Writer

Richard T. Mercer says he couldn't help himself.

For nearly two decades, the 47-year-old Westminster man was a devoted coach to hundreds of adolescent boys participating in Carroll recreational football leagues.

But the game wasn't the only attraction, his attorney said yesterday as Mercer was sentenced to 30 years in prison, with all but 10 years suspended, for sexually molesting at least two of his former players.

"We can't say that all of this activity with the football programs was purely altruistic," Daniel H. Green told Carroll Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. "During that time, he was sexually aroused by males."

A Carroll County grand jury returned a 16-count criminal indictment against Mercer in November, charging him with fondling several teen-age members of the Westminster Optimist football program.

Mercer, of the first block of Daniel Drive in Westminster, pleaded guilty in February to two charges of child abuse and one charge of furnishing alcohol to a minor.

In exchange for the guilty plea, prosecutors agreed not to prosecute Mercer in cases involving four other alleged victims. They also dropped 13 other charges and agreed to argue for a sentence of no more than 15 years, with seven years suspended.

Despite more than an hour of often revealing defense testimony -- in which Mercer said he was molested by an Episcopal priest when he was a youngster -- Judge Burns showed little sympathy for the defendant.

"Just because he says he was abused as a young child he suggests that he didn't realize it was wrong while he was abusing these young men," the judge said. "I just do not accept that argument."

Calling Mercer one of the worst child sexual abusers in the county's history, Judge Burns imposed two consecutive 15-year sentences. He suspended all but 10 years of the sentences, and ordered Mercer to serve five years of supervised probation upon release.

Though appearing overwhelmed at times, the defendant stood quietly and showed little emotion when the judge issued his sentence.

Both Mr. Green and Assistant State's Attorney Kathi Hill were surprised by the sentence.

"I feel the judge did the right thing," Ms. Hill said.

Mr. Green had argued for 15 years of home detention, so his client could continue counseling at a Baltimore sex disorders clinic.

During most of yesterday's sentencing hearing, the defense attorney recounted Mercer's "dysfunctional past."

When Mercer was an acolyte in a South Carroll Episcopal church, a priest -- now dead -- sexually abused him, Mr. Green told the judge.

"Back then, when nobody would talk about it, he was forced to internalize the hurt, the anger, the trauma," Mr. Green said. "He never developed an adult view of himself or his sexuality. It's only now, since therapy, that he has identified himself as a homosexual."

But the internalized hurt and anger led to a life of attraction to men, and, in particular, young boys, his attorney said.

"Mr. Mercer's method of seduction was particularly insidious," his attorney said. "It is the violation of being in this position of trust that has most angered the community."

Police and prosecutors contend that Mercer would first get to know the families of his victims and gain their trust. Then, court records say, he would take the boys to his home or to another location -- often with the blessing of the victim's family -- and offer them alcohol.

When the boys were drunk, he would rub them with hand lotion or witch hazel, then fondle them, court records said.

On the stand, Mercer expressed regret: "I don't think anybody . . . can understand what happens to you when you're abused. I can't undo what I've done, I wish I could, but I can't."

Mr. Green wanted to keep him out of state prison so that he could continue in treatment. He also said he fears retribution against his client, since Mercer was a correctional officer for more than 10 years at the Maryland Correctional Institution in Jessup.

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