Abuse suspect was family friend Now parents want man back behind bars

August 15, 1993|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff Writer

They run around the apartment, painting each other's faces, drinking cups of imaginary tea, and otherwise acting pretty much like 8- and 9-year-old girls do at the start of any summer day.

But something about these two Taneytown girls is anything but typical: They have told Carroll prosecutors that a family friend sexually molested them for nearly two years.

Last month, a county grand jury returned a 34-count indictmentagainst the man, charging him with sexually abusing eight children, two of them his own.

For the parents of the two girls -- whose names are being withheld to protect their daughters' identity -- the allegations that someone they had welcomed into their home and to their dinner table had abused their children were hard to believe at first.

"This is a nasty world, a real nasty world," said the mother of one of the girls. "This is degrading, but you've got to tell the kids that this stuff is wrong."

The mother speaks sternly as she discusses the man who is alleged to have fondled her 9-year-old daughter. She says her daughter is in counseling, and was comforted when she learned that the man was behind bars.

But, the mother says, the man's release on bond earlier this month has her daughter terrified.

"She says, 'Mommy, you've got to make sure he goes back to jail,' "the mother said.

"But all I can tell her is that I'm going to try like hell to get him back there."

She has drafted a petition -- so far signed by 27 people -- asking Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. to revoke the man's bail, a nearly impossible task unless the man violates the terms of his pretrial release.

In upholding the $60,000 bond that had kept the man in prison for weeks on five child sexual abuse charges, Judge Burns ordered thathe have no contact with children as a condition of release. The five charges were merged into the 34-count indictment returned by a grand jury July 29.

"Apparently, the judge thought the bail was fair," said Ruth Ann Arty, who as an investigator for the Child Abuse and Sexual Abuse Unit of the state's attorney's office is handling the man's case. "It's a shame he's out there."

Ms. Arty and prosecutors say the man is one of the worst pedophiles they've discovered this year. They say the investigation into other possible victims is continuing in earnest.

Her unit, which investigates and prosecutes Carroll's sex crimes, is pursuing 100 open cases, she said. So far, this case has the largest number of children who say they were abused.

Ms. Arty says she learned of possible sexual abuse when one of the alleged victims -- a 9-year-old girl -- told her mother that the man was forcing her to fondle him and consent to oral sex.

When Ms. Arty interviewed that girl, other names were mentioned, including the man's two children. They were interviewed, and they provided the names of other children who said they had been abused.

"This is one of the worst cases in a while, because this guy has access to these kids," Ms. Arty said. "He likes to play games, to have fun. He's almost one of the kids."

The man's attorney, Coleen S. Clemente, said of her client, "I don't think he fits the profile of 'pedophile.'

"He absolutely denies the allegations," she said.

The unemployed construction worker, who now lives with his parents elsewhere in the county, has been devastated by the charges and his isolation from former friends, Ms. Clemente said.

"It's pretty hard. He feels like everybody hates him," the lawyer said.

Although she has yet to speak with any of the alleged victims -- something she may not be able to do until they are on the witness stand at the man's December jury trial -- she said that some of their stories vary depending on who's listening.

She wondered aloud why anyone would make such allegations against him, saying, "I don't know, maybe it's motivated by a dislike for my client."

Her client is charged with multiple counts of second-, third- and fourth-degree sexual offenses, battery, perverted practice and child abuse. He faces a prison sentence of 460 years if convicted on all counts.

Three parents of the alleged victims admit they dislike Ms. Clemente's client, but said their antipathy arose only after their children told of sexual contact.

"He was a friend," said one 35-year-old father. "I guess you don't know people too well. But now, we will try our darnedest to put him back where he came from."

The man charged with abuse -- whose name is being withheld to protect the identity of his young children -- knew the parents of all of the children who have alleged they were abused.

"We were pretty close friends. He stayed with us a week when his wife kicked him out," said another woman whose 8-year-old daughter says she was fondled and forced to perform sex acts with the man.

"Why would someone throw his life away by fooling with someone who can't help herself?" the woman asked.

Her daughter, she says, wakes up screaming some nights. The girl was taken this week to Mercy Medical Center for a physical examination. Next week, she is to undergo an AIDS test, her mother said.

"An AIDS test, at 8 years old? That's wrong," the mother said.

Both she and the mother of the 9-year-old think parents and children need to learn how to detect possible abuse.

"You've got to get the awareness out. These kids need to know what is wrong and what is right," the 9-year-old's mother said.

"I can't watch them 24 hours a day, and neither can you," she said. "They've got to know, because there might be another [abuser] out there right now."

Some of the signs to watch for in children, Ms. Arty says, are mood swings, changes in appetite and bathroom habits, and sexual role-playing.

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