Prisoner appeals sex abuse penalty

May 01, 1994|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Sun Staff Writer

A man serving a 30-year prison sentence for sexually assaulting two Ellicott City girls in 1991 went to court Thursday, asking for relief from what his attorney called a "death sentence."

Patrick Leo Cunningham, 54, requested a panel of three Howard Circuit Court judges to review the sentence he was given for six charges -- crimes he said he did not commit.

"I didn't do this," said Cunningham, of Owings Mills. "I don't know what else I can do."

The Circuit Court panel -- made up of Judges James Dudley, Raymond Kane Jr. and Cornelius Sybert Jr. -- can maintain, reduce or increase Cunningham's sentence, which was set by Judge Dennis Sweeney in December.

Thomas McCarty, a Catonsville attorney for Cunningham, told the judges during the hearing that his client may not survive his prison sentence because of severe heart and kidney ailments.

"That sentence is a death sentence for him," Mr. McCarty said. "He has absolutely no hope."

Mr. McCarty argued that statements prepared by the victims and their families for Cunningham's sentencing were given too much weight by Judge Sweeney because there was nothing to contradict them.

He said records from the county Sexual Assault Center -- where the victims received counseling -- would have countered their statements, but he was not permitted to introduce them as evidence because of a court ruling.

But Assistant State's Attorney Walter Closson said that Cunningham's sentence should not be changed so society can be protected from the defendant.

"The state is as concerned now as it was at the time of the sentencing -- not only for the victims here, but for other young females if he has access to them," Mr. Closson said.

Cunningham was convicted in October of performing sex acts on two girls, then 9 years old, at a creek on July 1, 1991, near the Normandy Woods apartment complex, where he lived.

He was sentenced by Judge Sweeney to 40 years in prison for two counts each of second-degree sexual offenses, perverted sexual practices and child abuse in December. Ten years of the term were suspended.

Cunningham must serve 7 1/2 years in prison before he is eligible for parole, according to state guidelines. He has appealed his conviction to the state Court of Special Appeals.

Cunningham was acquitted of 16 other counts in connection with other alleged incidents.

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