All Brian Jarrell initially saw were the hands.
They were holding shut the door of an armoire in his son's Dundalk bedroom in the middle of the night. The room smelled of chemicals. When the father pulled open the door, a middle-aged man in black clothes and a black bandanna was standing there - a man he would later find out had a history of sneaking into houses and committing sex offenses against boys.
Richard L. Marks, 50, pleaded guilty yesterday to an attempted first-degree sex offense in the botched attack on Jarrell's 9-year-old son. Marks was arrested in September 2007 - four months after being released from prison, where he had been serving a 25-year sentence for a similar crime.
"I replay it in my mind every day," Jarrell said after yesterday's court hearing. "I don't believe it happened. I still don't believe it happened. Thank God, I woke up when I did."
Under the terms of the plea agreement, prosecutors will ask Baltimore County Circuit Judge Robert N. Dugan to sentence Marks to 50 years in prison. Defense attorney James A. Sorensen can argue for something less. The maximum penalty for an attempted first-degree sex offense is a life prison term.
Asked why five decades was an appropriate sentence, prosecutor John Cox said, "It's our confidence that he won't be eligible for parole until he's well into his 70s."
The case had been scheduled for a pretrial motions hearing yesterday. Hoping to prove what Marks intended to do in the boy's bedroom that night had he not been interrupted, prosecutors planned to argue yesterday that they should be allowed to tell jurors of Marks' prior crimes.
Prosecutors are usually prohibited from telling a jury about a defendant's criminal record unless the defendant takes the witness stand to testify. But Cox and Assistant State's Attorney Keith Pion had summoned to court the victims of Marks' previous crimes to try to persuade the judge that they should be permitted to present evidence of the defendant's arrest record of burglaries involving sex offenses against boys that went back three decades. It includes a similar crime in the same neighborhood 17 years ago.
Marks was accused in 1991 of entering a Dundalk home through an unlocked door and waking a teenage boy, according to Baltimore County police and prosecutors. In that instance, Marks was accused of forcing the boy to undress and perform a sex act on him. Marks pleaded guilty to burglary in exchange for a sentence of 25 years without parole, and the sex offense charges were dropped.
He remained in prison until April of last year, when he was transferred to home detention and returned to his mother's Dundalk home, which is a half-mile from the Jarrells' house.
Beginning in the early 1970s, Marks - who has spent all but about nine months of the past 34 years in prison - broke into homes late at night, woke boys and performed sex acts on them, according to charging documents in the Jarrell case.
In the most recent case, Marks apparently climbed a 6-foot fence and sneaked into the Jarrells' house through an unlocked door.
At 2:30 a.m. Sept. 3, 2007, Brian Jarrell got up to get a drink of water from the kitchen. Prosecutors said that on the way downstairs, the father smelled a chemical odor coming from the bedroom where his son and daughter were sleeping.
Jarrell thought his kids might have spilled something and used a cleaning product of some sort in the room. But as he climbed the stairs from the kitchen, he noticed that the odor had grown stronger and went into his son's bedroom, Pion said.
"He saw out of the corner of his eye two hands holding the wardrobe door closed," the prosecutor told the judge. "All he saw were these two hands. It turned out to be the defendant."
Marks fled, pulling a mirror and framed photographs off the walls as he ran down the steps.
Still in bed, Melinda Jarrell heard her husband yelling and crashing sounds on the steps.
"I thought the cats broke something and he was yelling at them," she said. When the commotion continued, she thought, "He's really yelling at those cats really nastily."
Brian Jarrell chased Marks out of the house and tackled him in the front yard, pinning him to the ground until police arrived.
In a backpack left in the child's room, police later found two knives, costume false teeth with the defendant's DNA on them, a flashlight, petroleum jelly, bottles of bleach and isopropyl alcohol, air freshener, rubber gloves and rags, the prosecutor told the judge.
Police also found chemical-soaked rags in the child's bed. And during a search of the defendant's mother's home, detectives found a children's book that had been missing from the Jarrells' home.
The find was significant because Marks could not have taken it the night he was arrested. Pion explained, "He had been in that bedroom before."