Plea deal rejected in child sex case

Proposed sentence not long enough, U.S. judge says

Case might have to go to trial

Man accused of traveling abroad to molest children

October 09, 2004|By Matthew Dolan | Matthew Dolan,SUN STAFF

A federal judge rejected a plea agreement yesterday that could have sent a former Roland Park man to prison for almost a dozen years on charges of molesting children overseas, criticizing the sentencing recommendation as too short.

U.S. District Judge Andre M. Davis, who favored a prison term of at least 17 years, said the sentence agreed to by prosecution and defense lawyers would result in a release date that likely would put children at risk from the former teacher.

Davis pointed to reports that Richard Arthur Schmidt, 61, had been in bed with two young boys in Cambodia shortly after he had been arrested and released by authorities there on similar charges.

"Supervised release isn't going to protect children from this defendant," Davis said.

Davis' rejection of the plea agreement could force prosecutors to bring the case to trial. Discussions will be held next week to schedule another hearing.

Schmidt signed an agreement with prosecutors July 8 to plead guilty to two charges of traveling to Southeast Asia with the explicit intent of having sex with children. Under the agreement, he could have been sentenced to between eight and 11 3/4 years in prison. He was brought back from Cambodia by U.S. federal agents in February.

The conviction would have been the first in Maryland - and one of the first in the nation - under a new federal law called the Protect Act designed to apprehend child "sex tourists" overseas using Homeland Security agents and return the suspects to the United States for trial.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Norman spent almost an hour at the beginning of the hearing telling the judge how federal agents tracked down Schmidt's purported victims in Cambodia and the Philippines.

When Davis announced that the presentation convinced him that the proposed plea agreement was insufficient, attorneys on both sides scrambled to try to save the deal.

"To say the least, I'm surprised and taken aback," defense lawyer Fred Warren Bennett told Davis. "Both of the parties came to you in good faith."

He argued that Schmidt had cooperated with prosecutors, given up the name of a Cambodian man who he said helped arrange access to the children, abdicated his right to appeal and allowed prosecutors to forgo a lengthy trial that Bennett called a "super-savings of scarce judicial resources."

Appearing gaunt and dressed in khaki pants and a white T-shirt on top of another, Schmidt did not speak during the hearing. Afterward, Bennett said that his client was extremely disappointed by the judge's rejection of the plea deal.

Norman, the prosecutor in the case, also defended the agreement, saying "it was decided at the highest level of the U.S. Attorney's Office."

Davis responded that Schmidt has a criminal record that includes three other sex offenses involving children. The judge also rejected the notion that Schmidt had provided "substantial assistance" to prosecutors because the "Cambodian pimp" the Baltimore man identified would never be brought to justice.

Through a spokesman, Maryland U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio declined to comment on the case.

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