Teacher guilty of sex charges

Carroll man admits abusing 2 boys when they were his pupils

Plea agreement reached

January 08, 2002|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

A longtime Taneytown Elementary School math teacher pleaded guilty yesterday to felony sexual child abuse charges, admitting that he had sex with a 13-year-old male pupil and inappropriately touched another pupil who was 10 years old at the time.

Harold W. Fair Jr., 49, who taught math at Taneytown Elementary and Northwest Middle schools for 27 years, was charged in June with 31 counts of sexually abusing six former pupils over 23 years.

As part of the plea agreement accepted yesterday by Carroll County Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr., prosecutors dropped 27 charges against Fair. He will be sentenced in March for one second-degree sex offense, two counts of sexual child abuse and one third-degree sex offense, which occurred in the 1980s.

Although each charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years to 20 years in prison, state sentencing guidelines suggest a range of four years to about 15 1/2 years for the charges to which Fair pleaded guilty.

Assistant State's Attorney Natasha Byus told the judge that she will ask for a 20-year prison term when Fair is sentenced in March, a request that defense attorney Thomas C. Morrow said he will oppose.

"We will attempt to persuade the judge that, statistically, incarceration doesn't really do anyone very much good in these cases," Morrow said in an interview. "In some cases, if the court feels the seriousness of the case demands incarceration, then you argue for the least amount of incarceration that is reasonably needed.

"These are not violent individuals, not individuals who represent a real danger to the community, especially once they've been removed from whatever situation they were in. So my thrust will be seeking to avoid incarceration or secure the minimum amount of incarceration possible."

Byus said in an interview that a lengthy prison sentence is warranted because of the decades-long cycle of abuse and "because of the level of trust of the relationships, his being the schoolteacher of these kids as well as his befriending the family and being the baby sitter" of one boy.

The plea agreement, investigators said, spares the victims the pain of testifying at several trials and allows them, Fair and the school system to move on.

"The victims don't have to go in and relive the abuse, and, to a certain degree, it provides closure," Byus said, alluding to animosity that one victim experienced after Fair was arrested.

"The victims know that the community knows that they did not make this up. That's the most important part, because Mr. Fair was very well-respected in that community and probably still is. They now know that their coming forward was not in vain," she said.

Dressed in a charcoal gray suit, a maroon shirt and a tie, Fair said little during the hearing, offering mostly "yes" and "no" answers to his lawyer's questions about whether he understood his guilty plea.

The 30-year-old former pupil, whom Fair abused when he was 10, wept in the back of the courtroom as the prosecutor described how Fair singled out favorite pupils in his fifth-grade math class, placing their desks beside his and inviting them to his Taneytown home.

Byus described how Fair fondled boys at school by putting his hands in their pockets under the guise of "counting change" or "looking for candy."

She described three years of abuse of one boy, now 27, who was 13 when Fair had sex with him. The teacher baby-sat for the boy's working parents. During the frequent nights the boy spent at Fair's house, Fair gave him alcohol, looked at pornographic magazines and pornographic movies, and used sex toys with him.

Byus also read excerpts from a transcript of a conversation that investigators surreptitiously recorded in May between Fair and the now-30-year-old former pupil who was abused in 1981 and 1982. During the taped exchange, Fair admitted abusing three boys but was at a loss to explain why.

"I was in drugs and stuff back then, and it was totally different. ... I mean, nowadays, if you pat somebody on the shoulder, that could be inappropriate touching," Fair said, according to a transcript of the conversation.

"Yeah," the former pupil responded, "but there's a difference between patting somebody on the shoulder and sticking your hands down their pockets, counting change."

Fair, who was suspended with pay in May pending the results of the police investigation and subsequent court case, was suspended without pay yesterday. He has 10 days to respond to interim Superintendent Charles I. Ecker's recommendation that the school board fire him.

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