Sex verdict reversal angers victim

June 19, 1994|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,Sun Staff Writer

Tammy Crouse of Aberdeen was angry when she learned recently that her stepfather's conviction on charges of sexually abusing her between 1974 and 1982 had been overturned by the state Court of Special Appeals.

She still is.

"I was the victim, and I have been paying for his crime for 19 years," said Miss Crouse, 28, who agreed to allow her name to be published.

The Sun does not identify victims or alleged victims of sexual abuse crimes without their consent.

A Harford Circuit Court jury convicted the stepfather in July 1993, but the decision was overturned June 8. The opinion was filed by Judge Glenn T. Harrell Jr. on behalf of an appellate panel that also included Theodore G. Bloom and Robert F. Fischer.

The panel said the conviction was invalid because the trial judge had erred in dismissing a juror who had written a note commenting on the defendant's sexual prowess.

The appellate judges concluded that the juror's explanation did not sufficiently indicate that the juror had disregarded his duty to keep an open mind about the case.

"It's just a loophole, and all taxpayers should be angry," said Miss Crouse. "A convicted child molester is back on the streets while I've got to wait for a new court date and go through it all over again."

Miss Crouse said her stepfather began abusing her when she was 9, but she was so afraid of his threats she didn't tell anyone.

"When I finally did tell my guidance counselor in 1978, we already had moved to Baltimore County from Edgewood, and my mother wasn't even notified," she said.

Miss Crouse said she told her mother about the abuse in 1982, but a District Court commissioner in Baltimore County advised them that the stepfather could not be prosecuted because the statute of limitations had expired.

That advice was incorrect, but Miss Crouse said she didn't learn of the commissioner's error until 1992.

Meanwhile, she said, she agonized over the knowledge, in 1988, that her stepfather had a granddaughter visiting him on weekends. She said she felt helpless until she heard a radio show in 1992 in which child abuse was discussed. "I found out there was no time limit on filing felony rape charges," she said.

So, she called Diana A. Brooks, an assistant state's attorney in Harford. The call prompted an investigation of the stepfather.

Her personal burden was finally lifted, said Miss Crouse, until the trial date arrived.

"I thought I was prepared to testify, but when I saw my stepfather before we got to the courtroom and saw him sitting five feet from me in the courtroom, I was overwhelmed.

"I had to convince all those people -- the jurors -- and it was his word against mine."

Miss Crouse said she was unable to relax until she heard the jurors repeating the word, "guilty" as they delivered their verdict.

"Finally, someone was saying, 'Hey, look, this man did it, and he's gotta pay.' " she said.

Miss Crouse said her stepfather had been willing to plead guilty if he could avoid jail time.

"He can try to plea bargain again, but only if he accepts the sentence he already received [15 years in prison with 10 years suspended]," she said she was told.

If he doesn't like his choices, Miss Crouse said, she'll be there to testify again at his retrial. Prosecutors in the Harford County state's attorney's office say they plan to refile charges.

Does Miss Crouse believe they can win a second conviction?

"The system is screwed up," she said. "Nobody's watching him to see that he doesn't do this to others . . . [but] he was convicted except for that loophole."

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