Baltimore Co. judge defends rape sentence

April 24, 1993|By Sheridan Lyons and Larry Carson | Sheridan Lyons and Larry Carson,Staff Writers Staff writer Norris P. West contributed to this article.

The Baltimore County Circuit judge who gave probation to a 44-year-old man who raped an 18-year-old employee after she passed out from drinking said yesterday that he thinks such offenses should be misdemeanors, not felonies punishable by long prison sentences.

"What this man did, the law equates with having sexual relations with a retarded woman," Judge Thomas J. Bollinger said yesterday. "To me, that's not the same as having sexual relations with a friend who you know who's in your bed who became intoxicated voluntarily."

But Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., who chaired the Senate committee that rewrote Maryland's rape laws in the mid-1970s, said the legislature intended that just such a situation be second-degree rape -- with a a 20-year maximum sentence.

"As one who shaped the law, we intended that anyone who is raping a drunken woman had better understand that they are going to get major jail time," Mr. Curran said.

Meanwhile, Judge Bollinger's comments and his sentencing Thursday of former theater manager Lawrence A. Gillette drew angry calls to the courthouse and area rape crisis centers -- but did not surprise several of the jurors who convicted Gillette in January and thought the sentence was a fair one.

The jury found Gillette guilty of second-degree rape after both he and the victim testified. He said she consented; the victim testified that she and her friends were drinking heavily with the defendant when the incident occurred in August.

When she became intoxicated, he and her friends walked her to his home nearby in Towson, where she vomited, passed out and was put fully clothed in his bed -- where he later raped her. The defendant was her boss; she said she considered him a friend, not a romantic interest.

While the prosecutor asked for jail time, Judge Bollinger gave Gillette probation before judgment with home detention, community service requirements and other conditions. If he meets them, the felony conviction will be erased from his record.

Deborah Brothers, the volunteer coordinator for the Sexual Assault Recovery Center in Baltimore, said her phones were ringing from morning until late in the afternoon after the case was reported in The Sun.

"They're mostly asking if it's possible to impeach the judge and the defense attorney," she said, expressing outrage that the sentence "is going back again to blaming the victim. A person doesn't give consent when she's unconscious."

Judge Bollinger said he'd received numerous calls, "some angry, some favorable, about 50-50." Of the law in the case, he said, "I'd rather see a crime of 'sexual exploitation' a misdemeanor -- a sexual violation that does not involve violence.

"If you equate it with property crime," the judge continued, "in a robbery, I grab your purse and push you. [But] if you get up and leave your pocketbook on the bench and I take it," it's larceny, a less serious crime.

Second-degree rape covers physically helpless victims -- specifically including someone incapacitated by drugs or alcohol, according to Mr. Curran, who chaired the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee during his tenure in the Maryland Senate.

"The statute clearly deals with someone who is intoxicated to a point where they're not able to understand what they're doing," he said. "There's no such thing as probation for rape. Rape is an outrage."

Tracey Stamper, legal advocate for the Sexual Assault-Spouse Abuse Resource Center in Bel Air who participated in the case, was upset by the outcome. "I was shocked. . . . It seemed by the judge's comments that he was expressing a lot of sympathy for the defendant and really got into a philosophical dissertation on the rape law -- and that's not what we were there for."

Judge Bollinger said conflicting testimony in the trial made it a difficult case: "I believed them both. It was a rape because the jury said it was."

Several of the jurors contacted yesterday agreed with the judge. Juror John L. Sullivan said he thought the sentence was fair. He said he believed that both Gillette and the woman were at fault. "I thought they both were guilty -- her being there, and him taking advantage of the situation," he said.

Clara M. Bevans, another juror, said the judge spoke to the jury after the verdict and told them he would have found Gillette innocent. She said that remark made her feel better because she only voted to convict to go along with the majority. "In my heart, I didn't think he was guilty," Ms. Bevans said.

A male juror who asked not to be identified said he was convinced Gillette was guilty, because the law was clear, and "there was very little doubt that she was impaired and was unable to make a clear choice." He said the problem with the law is "how is the partner to know when impairment starts?"

He said he wasn't outraged by the sentence because the decision on jail time vs. probation in this case was "a real tough call."

But Bonnie S. Ariano, director of the Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Center of Baltimore County, felt otherwise. The view that women who allow themselves to get drunk and then go to a man's apartment are to blame if they are attacked is simply "victim bashing," Ms. Ariano said.

She used the example of a mugging victim who was robbed while drunk on a public street. "No one looks at that guy and says, 'Why did he get drunk? He's asking for an attack,' " she said.

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