More indictments returned against John Merzbacher

May 10, 1994|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Sun Staff Writer

John J. Merzbacher, already facing charges of sexually assaulting 10 students during the 1970s at a Catholic middle school in South Baltimore, has been charged with abusing four more students -- along with a boy who says he lived with the former teacher.

A Baltimore grand jury Thursday returned 13 indictments charging Mr. Merzbacher with 46 crimes, including second-degree rape, sodomy, physical child abuse and sexual child abuse. Of the five alleged victims listed in the indictments, four were students at Catholic Community Middle School, formerly Our Lady of Good Counsel School, said Charles Baker, a Baltimore police detective assigned to the case.

Mr. Merzbacher, 52, was indicted in January on 86 counts in the alleged sexual abuse of students at the school.

The latest allegations, Detective Baker said, are similar to those raised in January, when Mr. Merzbacher was accused in criminal and civil court papers of having sexual encounters with male and female students ranging in age from 11 to 16. The sex acts allegedly took place in several places, including his classroom, a school supply room and the Rockaway Beach Volunteer Fire Department near Mr. Merzbacher's Baltimore County home.

Mr. Merzbacher has denied all previous allegations against him. Yesterday, his lawyer, M. Cristina Gutierrez, said he would plead not guilty to the latest charges.

The fifth alleged victim in last week's indictments said yesterday that he left his home as a 13-year-old to live with Mr. Merzbacher for nearly four years.

"As far as everybody was concerned, he was an upstanding citizen taking in this troubled youth and giving him a good home," said Bryan House, now 31. "He had my mother buffaloed."

Mr. House said that he had a bedroom in the basement of the Merzbacher home and that although he was never legally in Mr. Merzbacher's custody, school records listed Mr. Merzbacher as his guardian. Mr. House said he was molested within months of moving into the house.

Indictments charge Mr. Merzbacher with sexually abusing Mr. House at the school. That alleged abuse took place in the early morning hours, after nights spent drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana, Mr. House said.

"To him, the school was kind of like his 'Motel No-Tell,' " Mr. House said. "He had the key."

Asked why he did not report the alleged abuse when it took place, Mr. House said he was too embarrassed to come forward. As the investigation gathered steam earlier this year, Mr. House decided to speak to authorities.

"I had first-hand knowledge of alot of this terrorism that was going on," he said. "I've got three kids now and I could only think that if someone did this to them how I would feel. That's been a big driving force."

Ms. Gutierrez said she was not surprised to hear of the new indictments because prosecutors had told her in January that more charges, involving five more alleged victims, were likely.

After the indictments were returned Thursday, Circuit Judge Thomas Ward signed warrants for Mr. Merzbacher's arrest. Arrangements were being made for Mr. Merzbacher to turn himself in, Ms. Gutierrez said. Judge Ward ordered bail on the latest charges to be "concurrent" to the bail previously posted.

In January, Mr. Merzbacher was released to await trial after his and his daughter's houses were posted for bail.

Under the conditions of his release, he must remain in his home except to travel to meet with his attorney or to go to court, to work, to a doctor and to church on Sundays.

Baltimore County police patrolled the neighborhood around the Merzbacher home for about six weeks after his release -- not to monitor his whereabouts but to discourage anyone associated with alleged victims from trying to harm Mr. Merzbacher, said Sgt. Stephen R. Doarnberger, a police spokesman. He said the patrols will resume in the wake of the latest charges.

Mr. Merzbacher is scheduled to stand trial May 23 on the charges brought in January. He is to be arraigned June 6 on last week's charges.

He has been named as a defendant in nine civil suits that accuse him of sexually abusing students. Attorney Joanne L. Suder, who represents eight of the plaintiffs, said her cases are on hold pending the outcome of Mr. Merzbacher's criminal trials.

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