O'Malley pushes public safety into spotlight at conference

Girl's abduction, death prompts call for action

January 08, 2010|By Julie Bykowicz | julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

CAMBRIDGE — — Gov. Martin O'Malley told a conference of state lawmakers and county employees Thursday that public safety must remain a priority, even as Maryland faces a nearly $2 billion revenue shortfall this year.

He noted the recent abduction and killing of an 11-year-old girl in Salisbury and said officials must work harder to improve communications between agencies.

"What could we have done differently?" the Democratic governor asked at the annual winter meeting of the Maryland Association of Counties.

Sarah Foxwell's death has prompted top lawmakers to vow a review of sex-offender laws during the 90-day legislative session that begins Wednesday.

Her disappearance touched off a 3,000-volunteer search that ended with authorities finding her body Christmas Day. The suspect in her abduction, Thomas J. Leggs Jr., is listed as a "high-risk" sex offender in Delaware in connection with a 2000 rape of a minor. Leggs, categorized as a child sex offender, had been listed as "compliant" on Maryland's registry in connection with a third-degree sex offense in 1997.

In recent interviews, Michael E. Busch, speaker of the House of Delegates, and Thomas V. Mike Miller, president of the Senate, both Democrats, said the case highlights a need for urgent action. Republican lawmakers on the Eastern Shore also have vowed to fight for tougher laws.

"Maryland should have known that this person was a major sex offender in Delaware," Miller said. "We have to have a better way of communicating with other states and federal agencies about people with serious records who are crossing our borders."

Miller said he expects legislation examining sex crimes categories and how offenders are listed on the state's sex offender registry. He also said he wants to see major sex offenders who are listed as high-risk in one state similarly described on Maryland's list if they have moved to this state.

Busch said lawmakers would be looking at why Leggs was released so quickly from a prison sentence in Delaware - and whether a similar situation could arise in Maryland.

O'Malley touted improvements in public safety in his Thursday night speech, calling it a "great shame" that Maryland was ranked the country's fourth most violent state three years ago. With two years of 11 percent reductions in homicides statewide and a more than 50 percent reduction last year in Baltimore's juvenile homicides, O'Malley said, "it's undeniable that we are doing things right."

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