Rape victim refuses cash settlement Instead she demands changes in handling of juvenile offenders

April 28, 1993|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Staff Writer

Citing the teachings of Christ, a woman who was raped in a Howard County park in 1991 has turned down $200,000 to settle a lawsuit.

Not because she wants more money, but because she doesn't want any at all. Accepting the funds, she says, would not be the Christian thing to do.

She was attacked in Howard County two years ago this week by a 15-year-old convicted rapist in state custody. He was on a field trip with a state juvenile offenders program. She was jogging.

The insurer of a private company that ran the program offered her an estimated $200,000 to drop a lawsuit against the company and the state. Last week, she settled the case after both made policy changes she hopes will protect others.

In a society where some people play the court system like the lottery, the decision seems extraordinary. But for her, it was ultimately the only thing she could do.

"I know people are going to think it's strange that I didn't accept the money," said the woman, who has since moved to a farm in Pennsylvania. "But we felt that that was wrong."

"I know it would have bought us a nice farm and a new car and all that stuff, but . . . we knew God was going to hold us accountable for it. We felt like it was taking vengeance. . . . Vengeance belongs to God."

The woman is not being identified in this story. The Sun does not identify rape victims as a matter of policy.

As a part of settlement negotiations, the state provided the woman with a list of changes made since the rape. They include:

* No longer accepting violent sex offenders in unsecured facilities.

* Opening a secure, 24-bed treatment facility for sex offenders -- the first of its kind in the state -- at the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School in June.

* Requiring contractors running juvenile facilities to establish policies for field trips.

Walter Wirsching, director of program services for the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services, had no comment on the settlement's content.

It's "a decision that appears to be so deeply personal. It sounds like she wants to bring closure to it. I think we should let her do that."

North American Family Institute Inc. of Massachusetts ran the program for the state. Officials at National Union -- the New York insurance company that would have had to pay out the settlement -- "were surprised just as I was," said their attorney, Dale Garbutt of Baltimore. "It was a very unusual decision in modern times."

While crime victims sometimes donate settlement funds to charity, few, if any, absolve defendants of payment. Baltimore attorneys with decades of experience handling torts say they have never heard of such a case before.

"Once they've put the money on the table," said Harold DuBois, president of the Maryland Trial Lawyers Association, "I've never had anyone say, 'Send the check back.' "

"These are extraordinarily kind and gentle, religious people," said their Ellicott City attorney, Timothy J. McCrone. "I was proud to be able to assist."

The case began two years ago when the woman was 26 years old. She worked as a nanny and shared an apartment with her husband on Main Street in Ellicott City. On April 26, 1991, she went jogging in Centennial Park north of Columbia.

"It was crowded that day," she recalled. "There were mothers and babies and old people and kids and there were girls hanging out in bathing suits."

Also among the crowd were 19 juvenile criminals on a field trip from the Thomas O'Farrell Youth Center in Marriottsville. One of the youths, Antonio Lee Perry, was in state custody for raping a 15-year-old girl. After two youths wandered off, supervisors sent Perry to find them.

The woman was jogging along a path when Perry grabbed her from behind. He dragged her into the bushes, punched her twice the face and raped her.

Two passers-by frightened him off. Police eventually arrested Perry, who pleaded guilty to second-degree rape. He was

sentenced to 15 years in prison apart from his sentence to the O'Farrell Center for an earlier rape.

After Perry went to prison, the couple wanted to prevent the same thing from happening to someone else. On their behalf, Mr. McCrone filed a $70 million suit against the state and North American, the company that ran the O'Farrell Center. He suggested using it as leverage to make North American improve its policies.

Big-time litigation was a new experience for the couple. When Mr. McCrone told them how much they were suing for "both our mouths dropped open," the woman recalled. "We were about to fall backwards in our chairs."

Talk of money made them uncomfortable. The couple are fundamentalist Christians. They belong to an evangelistic church that disdains worldliness and strictly interprets scripture. It is called the Grace and Truth Assembly and is affiliated with hundreds of similar parishes around the world.

Searching for answers, they turned to the Bible -- 10 copies of which line the top shelf of one of their living room bookcases.

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