Senator aims to change sex-offender law

Case of man found in boy's bedroom prompts Jacobs' call to halt `good conduct' breaks in sentences

September 08, 2007|By Julie Scharper and Laura Barnhardt | Julie Scharper and Laura Barnhardt,Sun reporters

Maryland law should be changed so that sex offenders' sentences are not shortened for good behavior, a state senator said yesterday, days after a man with a record of burglaries involving sex offenses going back 30 years was found in a Dundalk boy's bedroom.

State Sen. Nancy Jacobs, a Republican who represents parts of Harford and Cecil counties, said that she intends to introduce a bill in the next legislative session that would prevent sex offenders from spending less time in jail because of good conduct, a practice known as diminution.

"You assume that when someone is sentenced to 25 years and it's a mandatory sentence without parole that that person is not going to see the light of day for 25 years," Jacobs said. "The average person doesn't know about diminution credits and that's why they're so outraged right now."

Jacobs said that she hopes the attention created by the arrest of Richard Lewis Marks, 49, who police said was found hiding behind an armoire in a room where two children were sleeping early Monday, will spur interest in this measure. But she acknowledges that the provision would not have made a difference in Marks' sentence.

Marks, 49, who has spent all but several months of his adult life in jail, was released from the state prison system in April after serving 16 years for a 1991 burglary in which he was also accused of committing a sex offense against a 15-year-old boy. Under a plea agreement, he received a sentence of 25 years without possibility of parole for that incident, and the sex charges were dropped.

He has been charged with an attempted first-degree sex offense and burglary in Monday's incident, in which rags soaked in chemicals and a book bag containing rubber gloves, petroleum jelly and candy were found in the room where the children were sleeping.

Although court documents from the 1991 incident allude to burglaries involving sex offenses, and the most recent document points to similar crimes dating to the early 1970s, Marks has never been convicted of a sex offense.

The case might highlight some of the difficulty in protecting the public from pedophiles, said Russell P. Butler, executive director of the Maryland Crime Victims' Resource Center.

It is fairly common for sex offense charges to be dropped because they are harder to prove in court, Butler said.

"It's not a mathematic formula," he said, adding that mental health evaluations and risk assessments of convicts help judges determine appropriate sentences.

George Gregory, a spokesman for the Maryland Division of Correction, said the state had no reason to review Marks' diminution credits. "There did not seem to be an error in this case," Gregory said.

Inmates receive the credits based on good behavior, industrial work, educational work and special projects, Gregory said.

Maryland lawmakers earlier this year passed several new laws aimed at improving the state's sex-offender registry and toughening sentencing guidelines for convicted sex offenders.

Jacobs, the Harford County Republican, was the lead sponsor of Jessica's Law, a measure signed into law in May that established a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years with no possibility of parole for child sex offenders.

julie.scharper@baltsun.com laura.barnhardt@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Josh Mitchell contributed to this article.

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