An Elkridge man accused of covertly videotaping his two young female tenants was convicted yesterday of violating a relatively new state law that makes it illegal to be a video peeping Tom and, in a surprise move, was sent to jail pending a July sentencing date.
Despite the concerns of experts and the law's author that holes in the statute would make prosecution difficult, Howard County District Judge C. James Sfekas found Edward George Campion III, 58, guilty of two counts each of secretly videotaping the women in their private rooms and of doing so for lewd purposes.
Sfekas handed down the verdict after lawyers for both sides argued the merits and shortcomings of the law. Minutes later and after viewing a portion of one of the videotapes, the judge ordered the jailing of Campion, who was released without having to post bond when he was charged in April. Sfekas set sentencing for July 13. Campion could be sentenced to up to two years in prison and a $4,000 fine.
It was the jailing more than the conviction that surprised Campion's lawyer, Michael E. Henderson. The Elkridge resident has no criminal record, appeared in court yesterday and was convicted of misdemeanor charges that carry less serious penalties than those for driving while intoxicated, the lawyer said.
"I thought that was an extremely harsh result, given the facts and circumstances," said Henderson, who plans to file a motion asking Sfekas to release his client before sentencing. " ... I'm sure [Campion] is as surprised as I am that they actually hauled him away."
Campion is believed to be the first person in Howard County to be prosecuted under a 1999 voyeurism law sponsored by Montgomery County Democrat Del. Dana Lee Dembrow. While the law makes video spying into a private residence illegal, it includes a host of exemptions meant to protect people's rights to secretly tape their children's nannies or to catch cheating spouses.
Dembrow and experts pointed to those exemptions when Campion was charged, stressing that the law against video spying exempts residents who place cameras in their homes. Campion lived on the lower level of his house in the 6100 block of Fairbourne Court and rented rooms on the upper level to an 18-year-old pizza shop worker and a 22-year-old flight attendant.
The Sun is not identifying either woman because of the nature of the offense.
Henderson also argued that the second charge, which requires "prurient intent," lists dressing rooms, bedrooms and bathrooms in places "of public use or accommodation," but does not specifically list apartments or rented rooms.
But Sfekas noted that by renting rooms to the women, Campion, in essence, created multiple homes in his house.
"This is three residences and not one," Sfekas said. Moreover, the fact that he rents the rooms to the "public" makes Campion subject to the provisions of the second charge, the judge said.
Yesterday, Dembrow reacted with surprise upon learning the verdict and said the court's action might make it unnecessary to tighten the law.
"I'll be darned," Dembrow said. He cautioned that the case can be appealed.
"I know the statute was crafted with loopholes in it, so it wouldn't cover situations we didn't want to cover," he said. As a result, he said, he was afraid the Campion case would "fall through the cracks." But Sfekas appears to have interpreted the law in a way that "may ensure justice is done," he said.
Campion was arrested April 11, three weeks after his 22-year-old tenant, who had gone to the basement to do laundry, discovered a television monitor in a closet that was usually secured with a deadbolt, a keyed entry lock and an air-driven piston lock. When she pushed play on the monitor, she saw an image of the 18-year-old woman's bathroom.
Officers found pinhole cameras behind paneling in one of the women's bedrooms, in a bedroom that contained a tanning bed and behind a toilet in a first-floor powder room. They later found holes in a towel rack - but no camera - in one of the women's bathrooms. Videotapes that had been seized showed images of that bathroom, according to a statement of facts read into the record yesterday.
When questioned, Campion said he had installed the cameras because he thought his wife was cheating on him and he wanted to catch her in the act, according to the statement.
Police seized 18 videotapes containing more than 64 hours worth of tape that included images of the renters getting undressed, using the toilet and getting into the shower. One of the tapes appeared to have been edited from other tapes and included nude images of the women, the statement said.
Neither woman would comment after yesterday's hearing.
Assistant State's Attorney Lynn Marshall, who prosecuted the case, told Sfekas that the state is asking for jail time only - not probation. "Even a small child, by the time he's 5 years old, knows you don't violate someone's privacy in the bathroom," she said.
Henderson said he will argue for a "lenient" disposition for Campion and noted that his client thought his wife was cheating.
"Mr. Campion wishes to apologize to [the renters]," he said. "The original intent had nothing to do with them."