Md. has gaps in offender registry

Loophole keeps some convicted of sex crimes off list

May 24, 2008|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,Sun Reporter

A former Roman Catholic priest who was convicted in 2006 of sexually abusing a student at Calvert Hall College High School 20 years earlier will not be required to register as a child sex offender due to a loophole in state law, which legislators unsuccessfully sought to address this year.

Jerome F. Toohey Jr., who was permanently removed from the ministry this week, completed an 18-month jail sentence last year for abuse that had occurred in the late 1980s. He is not required to register because of the time lag between his offense and his conviction.

Maryland law requires sex offenders convicted of offenses that occurred after September 1995 to register with the state. Also, offenders convicted of earlier crimes are required to register - if they were in prison or on probation in October 2001.

Toohey is among a small number of sex offenders who fit neither of those two descriptions. The manager of the state's sex offender registry said his case is troubling.

"Eventually the problem won't exist, as you move further and further away" from the 1995 cutoff date, said Elizabeth Bartholomew, the registry's manager. "But right now it does exist, and it's not a good loophole to have, and we would like to see it corrected. Individuals like Mr. Toohey have hurt a child and have been convicted, but, because of this loophole, get out of that particular part of his obligation. Even one person who gets out of it is probably too many."

Lisae C. Jordan, legal director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said that two or three cases fall within the sex offender registry loophole each year.

"It seems to be a simple oversight from when the law was made retroactive," Jordan said. "There was a desire to put people under the registry if they were in jail at that moment, and there's no indication that the legislature considered that some cases would be involving someone convicted after 1996 but who had committed the crime long ago."

The sex offender registry was created in 1995, the year before Congress passed "Megan's Law," which requires states to keep track of registered sex offenders. It is designed to inform communities of convicted rapists, child predators and other such criminals in the area, and has since been expanded to include mapping software and to enable victims to receive automatic updates when an offender changes addresses or is released from prison.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, a Washington County Republican, sponsored a bill this year designed to close the loophole by requiring anyone convicted in October 1995 or later of a child sex offense to sign on to the registry. He said he filed his bill in response to concerns from a woman in his district who had come forward in 2005 with allegations against a former teacher more than 20 years after the alleged assault.

The woman - told that the man would not be required to register as a sex offender - testified before a House committee in February that as a mother of two she was worried for the safety of children as the man nears his release from prison, Shank said.

The bill passed both chambers unanimously but stalled while waiting to be heard in front of a committee on the final day of the session.

Shank said Toohey's situation shows that the problem went beyond his constituent's concerns and provides more incentive to get changes passed into law next year. Both he and Sen. Nancy Jacobs, a Harford County Republican, said they intend to re-introduce the bill next year.

"If it can prevent one other crime, then it's important for public safety," Shank said. "I think that's why we have it for sex offenders, and this loophole in the law is the only reason they're not on there."

Toohey, 62, served as chaplain at Calvert Hall College High School in Towson from 1982 to 1993. He also worked at St. Francis of Assisi Parish from 1977 to 1984 and as chaplain to the deaf community from 1984 to 1993, according to the archdiocese. In addition, he was a member of the board of directors of the John Carroll School and celebrated Mass regularly at St. John the Evangelist Church in Hydes.

He was stripped of his authority to function as a pastor in 1993 by the Baltimore Archdiocese after a former John Carroll student, Michael Goles, accused the priest of sexually abusing him in the 1980s after he had sought counseling. A lawsuit Goles filed in 1994 against Toohey was dismissed because state law requires that civil suits be filed within three years of an alleged incident.

Toohey pleaded guilty in Baltimore County Circuit Court in November 2005 to abusing Thomas Roberts when the victim was attending Calvert Hall and went to the chaplain for counseling about his parents' divorce. Roberts went on to become an anchor at CNN Headline News.

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