Guilty plea in fondling case might yield life in prison

September 26, 2006|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,sun reporter

A Joppa man accused of fondling an 11-year-old boy who was waiting while a family member took piano lessons from the man's wife pleaded guilty yesterday to a third-degree sex offense. Because it is the man's third conviction, prosecutors said, they would push for the maximum sentence of life in prison.

David B. Mentzer, 51, entered the guilty plea yesterday morning as jury selection in his trial was to begin, said Diane Adkins-Tobin, an assistant state's attorney with the Harford County Child Advocacy Center.

Mentzer was charged in March after a complaint was filed by the boy's family. The child, who took piano lessons from Mentzer's wife along with his mother and sister, told investigators that Mentzer had fondled him six to seven times over a period of four months while he waited for his lesson.

In 1987, Mentzer was convicted of a sex offense involving a 14-year-old boy in Harford County, and in 1981, he was convicted of a sex offense in a case in Kentucky.

Because his 1987 conviction occurred before the creation of Maryland's sex offender registry, Mentzer was not included on the list. That drew increased scrutiny from local politicians and candidates, who called for tougher sentencing laws.

Mentzer initially faced 25 years in prison, but the case was filed under subsequent-offender provisions that increased the maximum penalty to life in prison, Adkins-Tobin said. Sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 18.

"Because he had prior convictions, we were able to seek an enhanced penalty, and we've made it very clear that that's what we believe is appropriate in this case," Adkins-Tobin said.

She said Mentzer made two admissions to the crimes: one to police and one to the child's mother.

On Wednesday, Mentzer's attorney filed a motion to move the trial to a different jurisdiction because of pretrial publicity.

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