Trial Testimony Leaves Price Speechless for a Change

September 12, 1993|By DENNIS O'BRIEN

After hearing three women break down and cry as they described how he seduced them, Ron Price was asked by a reporter if he had any remorse for what he had done.

He had nothing to say -- for once.

The man who for five months granted television and newspaper interviews, admitted his crimes on "Geraldo!" and confessed his lustful thoughts to the Washington Post, was finally doing what most people who face criminal charges do. Keeping quiet.

While Price's crimes and his loquacious ways may inspire a television movie, they also are likely to land him a considerable prison term when he is sentenced next month by Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge Eugene M. Lerner.

Criminal defense lawyers roll the dice when they make decisions in preparing for trial, but they almost never let their clients talk publicly about the case the way that Price did. That decision prompted considerable criticism among legal experts last week.

But whether the legal advice was sound or not, it was apparent that Ron Price enjoyed telling his story and wanted his day in court. After he was charged, Price put himself in the spotlight, opening his home to cameras, perhaps hoping that if he admitted responsibility, people would forgive him.

Unrepentant to the end, his last words to the press were consistent with what he had said since the day he was arrested at his Brooklyn Park home last April.

"It doesn't pay to tell the truth," he said as the doors to a court house elevator slammed shut on him.

In testifying, Price blasted the school administration for its unrealistic goals and attitudes about education. He talked about how much work is involved in teaching, and said that he didn't know it was a crime for a teacher to have sex with his students.

His wife also testified, telling jurors she didn't think it was so wrong for a teacher to have sex with his students. After all she did when she was a student, she said.

Neither helped his case much.

"One [defense] witness was ineffective. The other was ineffective, and admitted to a felony," said one defense attorney who listened to much of the trial.

To prove a teacher has abused a student in Maryland, a prosecutor must show that the teacher had "temporary care and custody" of his victim, meaning he had responsibility for their supervision and well-being at the time of the abuse.

In Maryland, it does not matter if the student consents to the sex. State law says 16 is generally the age of consent for sex, but the age goes up to 18 if the accused is a teacher or baby-sitter charged with custody of the victim.

Price's attorneys tried to argue that the law is outdated and should be changed.

One of the defense lawyers, Timothy F. Umbreit, argued that sex is everywhere these days: It's on television, it's in newspapers and magazines, and it's a topic of discussion around many offices and social gatherings.

He asked jurors to focus on the values of the victims who may have encouraged it, on the failures of the school system that let it happen and on society's increasingly relaxed attitudes toward sex that might make it easier to understand.

High school girls "dress differently" and are more mature these days than they were when the state's child abuse statute was written in the 1880s, he said.

The jury didn't buy it. William Stevens, a 35-year-old juror from Edgewater, said he couldn't imagine a case where it would be excusable for a high school teacher to have sex with a student. He said he did not hear any issues or questions raised by the defense that would have led him to vote for an acquittal.

Jurors said they were turned off by the defense attacks on the three witnesses, which included calling a 16-year-old girl a drug addict because she smoked marijuana. Maybe she did smoke some marijuana -- but every eye in the jury box followed her as she rushed from the courtroom in tears when she finished testifying.

When he stood to question one witness, defense attorney Jonathan Resnick made a joke of how being dressed in a black suit that day he was apparently being cast in the role of "bad

rTC guy" for the trial.

Unfortunately for him, the image stuck.

"It was like, from then on, he was the bad guy," said Michael Clark, an alternate juror.

In the end, the jury did what it was directed to do: decide the case of Ron Price. After all, neither the school system nor society was on trial.

Jurors said the only question they were facing when the trial ended was not deciding whether Price was guilty -- but how guilty.

It took jurors two and a half hours to reach a verdict, they said, only because they had to grapple with whether Price had sex with all three women while they were in his custody, or whether he only had sex with two under those circumstances.

Said Mr. Stevens: "He never denied having sex with two of them."

Dennis O'Brien is a reporter for The Baltimore Sun.

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