Child sex abuser draws 18-month term for crimes he committed 20 years ago Sentence will allow him to keep job, live at jail

November 11, 1997|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

More than 50 of his supporters watched and wept yesterday as a former South County church youth counselor was sentenced to 18 months in the county jail for sexually molesting two teen-age boys two decades ago.

Mayo United Methodist Church members filled half of Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Clayton R. Greene's courtroom for the guilty plea and sentencing of Benjamin M. Matthews, 40, of Upper Marlboro.

The sentence, which also included five years of supervised probation, will allow Matthews to continue working as TC convenience store clerk while living at the county jail. He was ordered to stay away from anyone under 18 and to pay restitution for his victims' counseling. It was close to what his lawyer sought.

"I think the sentence was a fair sentence," said defense attorney Peter S. O'Neill. The maximum sentence could have reached 45 years.

O'Neill had asked for house arrest or an arrangement that would allow Matthews to work and care for his 78-year-old mother, who sobbed as the proceeding ended.

Technically, Matthews was sentenced to five years in prison with all but 18 months suspended, meaning any future wrongdoing could land him in prison for the full term.

Matthews' friends and acquaintances sent 31 letters to the judge. Yesterday, four attested to the kindnesses and charitable work he has done over the years.

Pastor Reg D. Barss said Matthews has redirected himself, "certainly has been an advocate of Christian values" and "has made his own peace with God."

Barss said he and others came neither to condone nor condemn Matthews, but to show loving support.

O'Neill noted that Matthews had lost his job as a mortician and is now bankrupt.

But Assistant State's Attorney Kathleen Rogers emphasized the suffering of the victims, who were sexually abused in casket display rooms of funeral parlors where Matthews had worked, at church, at the West River Methodist Church Camp and at other places he took them.

She argued for up to three years in prison.

"He obtained the trust, in both these cases, of the boys' parents," she said.

She equated sodomizing a boy to raping a girl, yet, she said, sentencing guidelines are widely unequal. They recommend two years for sodomy, but four to nine years if the victim had been a girl.

Greene said he was taking Matthews' 20 years of good deeds into consideration against the "heinous" crimes against children.

"The court is not here for revenge. That's not my business," he said.

In July, Matthews was convicted by a judge of child abuse, sodomy and perverted sexual practices in connection with one victim. Three related charges were dropped.

Rogers said therapists from Sheppard Pratt, where Matthews is being treated for a suicide attempt and other psychological problems, indicated only last week that he said he did not do anything.

Yesterday, he paused before he pleaded guilty to sodomy of the second teen-ager. Two related charges were dropped.

One of Matthews' victims buried his face in his hands when the sentence was read and rushed out of the courtroom.

The other said later that he had hoped for a longer sentence and that he thinks daily about the abuse. He wondered if there were other victims who have not contacted the authorities, saying he called police only after hearing about the other allegations.

"I had to come and see it through, so that I could get on with my life," he said.

Pub Date: 11/11/97

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