Woman, 32, accused of bigamy in county Wife allegedly had spouse in jail, prosecutors say

December 02, 1996|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

This marital dispute isn't just another case of "he said, she said." Baltimore County prosecutors allege it's a case of "she wed, she wed."

Betty Ann Sisson, 32, has been charged with bigamy -- and could face a possible nine-year prison term if convicted of having two husbands at once.

Rodney Sisson, 30, a forklift operator who lives in Abingdon, claims that his wife was already married to a prisoner when he wed her six years ago.

"She's got to pay for this because it's not fair to me what she did to me. I married her in good faith," he said.

Prosecutors say such charges don't come up often.

"It's a fairly uncommon crime," said county Assistant State's Attorney Joseph J. Steigerwald, who is handling some preliminary matters in the case. "I guess I've had maybe 10 cases over the past five years." Of those, he said, about half make it to trial after being reviewed by his office.

Within the next few weeks, the Sisson case is likely to be the subject of a preliminary hearing, allowing a judge to determine whether there is enough evidence to go forward. A trial probably would occur within two months of that, Steigerwald said.

The Sissons met in 1987 through neighbors and began living together a few months later.

On May 20, 1990, they married before about 25 people at St. John's Lutheran Church in Essex, according to Rodney Sisson and charging documents he filed Oct. 3 in District Court.

The couple honeymooned in Atlantic City and found an apartment in eastern Baltimore County. But their relationship was tumultuous, with Betty Ann Sisson leaving Rodney Sisson at least a half-dozen times, according to court records.

In October, she sought a protective order against her husband, who had pushed her, hit her in the head and chest and threatened to kill her, she alleges in District Court records.

That month, District Judge Patricia S. Pytash ordered Rodney Sisson to leave their apartment, get domestic-violence counseling and have no contact with his wife or their two daughters until April.

But when Rodney Sisson was gathering his belongings, he came across a divorce judgment that one Betty Ann Ward had requested of Bernard Leon Ward Jr., whose address was listed as the state penitentiary. The divorce was granted March 13, 1991 -- almost a year after the Sissons got married, he said.

"I was like, shocked, because I can't believe I'm going through this," said Rodney Sisson, who lives with his stepmother and father.

Betty Ann Sisson declined to comment for this article.

According to Jana B. Singer, an associate professor of family law the University of Maryland School of Law, bigamy has declined since the 1970s, when Maryland's divorce laws became more lenient. "Now, with divorce quite easy, it would make sense to me that bigamy would not be as common as it once was."

In Maryland, in most cases a divorce can be granted within two years. But, she added, "If your spouse is sent to jail for life, you still are married."

Pub Date: 12/02/96

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