Man pleads guilty in hostage-taking

January 11, 1995|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Sun Staff Writer

After nearly a week of indecision, a Woodbine man accused of raping a 20-year-old woman and holding her hostage for nearly 13 hours last summer pleaded guilty in a plea bargain yesterday that will put him in prison for 50 years.

Ralph Paul Ash, 37, was expected to accept the deal Jan. 4, but asked to have until yesterday to commit to an agreement in which he would plead guilty to first-degree rape, burglary and to second-degree sexual offense in an unrelated case involving his wife.

"This is a hard decision for anyone to make," said his attorney, assistant public defender Judson K. Larrimore. "We are pleased with the plea negotiations and the outcome in the case."

Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr., who agreed to the terms of the deal when it was struck last month between Mr. Larrimore and then-Assistant State's Attorney Kathi Hill, recalled the two previous times Ash appeared before him in rape cases in the past 15 years.

"Mr. Ash is one of the most dangerous criminals who has appeared before this court," the judge said after imposing a life sentence for the rape conviction and two concurrent 20-year terms for the other two charges. The judge suspended all but 50 years of the sentences.

"I'd be very happy to see Mr. Ash spend the rest of his life behind bars."

Those comments were comforting to the rape victim's mother, who, along with State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes, criticized the plea deal.

"I felt good about what the judge said," the victim's mother said. Her name is being withheld by The Sun to shield her daughter's identity.

The victim, who returned to Carroll County yesterday after a lengthy business trip, was not in the courtroom.

But, in a statement introduced into the court record, she wrote that she had never agreed to any plea bargain and would have been willing to testify against Ash during a trial.

"It was just a little scary to know that I had to see him again and hear his lies about that day," she wrote. "Maybe it doesn't have a crime title but truly fearing for your life for 13 hours deserved to be recognized and not pushed aside . . ."

According to court records and testimony at two bail review hearings, Ash told police that his actions July 13 were part of a plan to kill his estranged wife.

"I told [the victim] I wanted to use her to get to my wife, to talk to my wife. I wanted to get my wife to come over so I could kill her," he told police, according to District Court charging documents.

"The whole plan was to get my wife."

During the ordeal, the man repeatedly demanded to have sex with the woman.

The woman pleaded with her attacker, according to a statement of facts read by Mr. Barnes yesterday. According to the statement, Ash responded, "It's just sex."

After being held at knifepoint for more than 12 hours, the woman was able to flee when her abductor turned away to answer a phone call from a state police negotiator. The manwalked out of the woman's mobile home about 30 minutes later.

A day after details of Ash's plea bargain were made public, Mr. Barnes criticized the deal as too lenient. The arrangement was defended by Ms. Hill and her boss, former State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman.

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