Merzbacher's bail set release is likely today

January 12, 1994|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff Writer Staff Writer Jim Haner contributed to this article.

Yesterday's editions of The Sun included an incorrect spelling of the name of the defense attorney representing John Joseph Merzbacher Jr. on charges of child abuse. Her name is M. Cristina Gutierrez.

The Sun regrets the error.

John Joseph Merzbacher Jr. was expected to be released from jail today after a Baltimore Circuit Court judge's decision to set bail for the former teacher accused of molesting 10 middle school students.

Mr. Merzbacher was held at the Baltimore City Detention Center last night after a paperwork problem prevented his release, according to a detention center official.


At a bail review hearing yesterday, Circuit Court Judge Ellen L. Hollander accepted Mr. Merzbacher's offer to post his Rockaway Beach house -- worth at least $110,000, according to his lawyer, M. Christina Gutierrez -- and a house in which his daughter and son-in-law have equity of between $10,000 and $15,000, along with a $50,000 "corporate bond." Judge Hollander ordered Mr. Merzbacher to remain on home detention while awaiting trial.

Judge Hollander said that family ties, decades of residency in Maryland and steady employment weighed in Mr. Merzbacher's favor -- and against a Pretrial Release Services official who recommended $1 million bail and prosecutors who said he should be held without bail. The judge also in large part rejected prosecutors' arguments that Mr. Merzbacher is a threat to public safety or a threat to flee.

Mr. Merzbacher, 52, had been jailed without bail since Friday on an 86-count indictment charging him with raping and sodomizing 10 students at Catholic Community Middle School in the 1500 block of E. Fort Ave. where he taught from 1972 to 1979. A District Court commissioner said that day that she could not set a bail for the most serious charge -- first degree rape -- but set bail at a total of $450,000 for the remaining charges.

Police and witnesses now say that Mr. Merzbacher may have molested more than 40 students from 1962 to 1979. Mr. Merzbacher taught at three city public schools before taking a job at Community Middle School -- formerly Our Lady of Good Counsel School.

Mr. Merzbacher and the archdiocese were named as defendants in five multimillion-dollar lawsuits filed last week by former students who say he sexually assaulted them -- and flashed a pistol while threatening to kill anyone who reported his acts.

In court yesterday, Ms. Gutierrez, the defense lawyer, mentioned those suits. In an interview after the hearing, she said the judge was free to draw inferences from the fact that the charges are "not isolated events but arise from civil claims seeking money damages."

Ms. Gutierrez noted that the filing of civil suits will help her in defending Mr. Merzbacher because civil court procedure allows defendants to take depositions from plaintiffs and investigate matters such as the accusers' medical records.

Ms. Gutierrez described Mr. Merzbacher as a "substantial person" facing "charges that run to the absurd."

She said that neither she nor her client have received confirmation of reports that Mr. Merzbacher had been suspended without pay from his $27,505-a-year job as a supervisor for fire dispatchers in Baltimore County. Judge Hollander said that Mr. Merzbacher would have to remain at his home, under the supervision of pretrial release officials, except to travel to meet with his attorney, to go to court or to a doctor and to church on Sundays. She ordered him to have no contact with any of the alleged victims in the case.

Under the terms of his release, Mr. Merzbacher will also have to wear a radio tracking bracelet that would enable police to find him should he fail to make scheduled check-in calls from his home phone or should he leave his house without authorization.

Attorney Joanne L. Suder, who has filed lawsuits totaling $350 million on behalf of five alleged victims from the middle school, said that within minutes of the bail announcement her phones lit up with calls from many of the 40 former students who have come forward so far as potential witnesses and plaintiffs.

"Obviously, some of them are very upset," she said last night. "But the judge set the bail she thought was reasonable and * *TC think it's significant that she placed him on home monitoring. That offers my clients some measure of protection and security."

One prosecutor said she was disappointed with the judge's decision although she respected it.

"It was clear that she thoroughly looked at all the factors in the case," said Sharon A. H. May, head of the sex offense unit of the city state's attorney's office.

"This was not a light decision on her part. I respect that. We have to live with her analysis."

Mr. Merzbacher is scheduled to be arraigned Feb. 9 in Circuit Court.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.