Sex case suspect out of jail

January 13, 1994|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff Writer

Former teacher John Joseph Merzbacher Jr. was released from jail last night after a day in which court and corrections officials sorted through the confusion over the terms for his release on bail while he awaits trial on criminal charges of molesting 10 students at a Roman Catholic middle school.

Mr. Merzbacher ignored reporters' questions as he left the Baltimore City Detention Center at 7:25 p.m. He was whisked away in a van.

He arrived about 10:50 p.m. at his home in the 700 block of Rockaway Beach Ave. in eastern Baltimore County, where he is to remain under house arrest while awaiting trial. "Talk to my attorney tomorrow. Then I'll have something to say," he told reporters there.

Earlier in the day, while Mr. Merzbacher was in court for his second bail review hearing in as many days, two more multimillion-dollar suits were being filed by former students who say he sexually assaulted them during the 1970s while he was a teacher at South Baltimore's Community Middle School, formerly Our Lady of Good Counsel School. Mr. Merzbacher and the Baltimore archdiocese have been named as defendants in seven such lawsuits.

The latest suits against Mr. Merzbacher and the archdiocese were filed under pseudonyms by a man and a woman. Four of the seven suits have used pseudonyms.

When news surfaced Tuesday that Mr. Merzbacher's release on bail was imminent, one of his accusers said she was shocked.

"I am absolutely stunned," said a 32-year-old former student who has said that Mr. Merzbacher repeatedly raped her at gunpoint at the middle school. "We're talking about some one who had so much power over us for so long that we weren't willing to come forward for 20 years.

"Now that we have come forward, our names and addresses are all over court documents that are sitting on his lawyer's desk. This man who threatened to kill me can find me now."

Mr. Merzbacher had been expected to get out of jail Tuesday night, but officials at the Detention Center cited paperwork problems as the reason his release was delayed.

Late yesterday afternoon, Circuit Judge Ellen L. Hollander modified her release order to alleviate a technical problem.

Judge Hollander, who ruled Tuesday that Mr. Merzbacher could be released by posting a $50,000 bail bond and a stake in two of his family's houses as bond, changed her order to say that the two houses could be posted in lieu of an additional $250,000 in bail. Clerks in the Circuit Court bail department had said they could not accept a house owned by Mr. Merzbacher's daughter and son-in-law as collateral unless the judge established a bail amount to which they would be applied.

After yesterday's hearing, Mr. Merzbacher signed his name to pledge as bail bond his stake in a house that he and his wife own.

Earlier yesterday, his daughter and son-in-law had signed over their house as collateral and the family members had obtained a $50,000 corporate bail bond. Most corporate bail bonds can be obtained by paying 10 percent of the total to a bail bondsman.

Under the judge's order, 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, to work or to a doctor and to church on Sundays. She ordered him to have no contact with any of the accusers in the case. The order does not specify electronic monitoring of Mr. Merzbacher's home detention.

Mr. Merzbacher, 52, was arrested last Thursday after a Baltimore grand jury issued an 86-count indictment charging him with raping or sodomizing 10 students at the Locust Point Catholic school, where he taught from 1972 to 1979.

A District Court commissioner said Friday that she could not set bail for the most serious charge, first-degree rape, but she set bail at a total of $450,000 on the remaining charges.

Police and witnesses now say 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 the Catholic school.

During a hearing Tuesday, Judge Hollander agreed that the charges amounted to a "most heinous offense" but that family ties, decades of residing 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 rejected in large part prosecutors' arguments that Mr. Merzbacher is a threat to public safety or a threat to flee. She noted that no evidence was presented to show he was a danger in the 15 years since the most recent alleged offense.

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