When the Maryland court system sends a judge from one county to another to administer justice, there should be some justice in the sentencing.
That wasn't the case recently in Cecil County when Judge Christian Kahl, who usually presides over cases in Baltimore County, was in Elkton for the sentencing of a retired Episcopal priest who had once served at churches in Harford County and who was convicted of molesting minor two girls in Cecil.
Donald Wells Belcher, 82, who had most recently molested within the past nine months, according to court proceedings, was given a suspended sentence and ordered to be on supervised probation for five years.
Belcher had entered an Alford plea, an acknowledgement that the state has sufficient evidence for conviction without admitting guilt, and, in return, the state dismissed charges of committing third and fourth degree sex offenses. Guilty findings were imposed on two counts of sexual abuse of minors and the prosecuting attorney asked for a 20 year jail term, saying, "If he is capable of molesting a child nine months ago, he is capable of serving time in prison."
Every bit as galling as the lack of jail time are the terms of probation for Belcher, who served at the Church of the Holy Cross in Street and also has ties to St. John's Episcopal Church in Havre de Grace and St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Abingdon. Belcher had retired to Montana, where he owns a bar, and will be permitted to transfer his probation to that state. With a wave of the hand, Kahl in effect transferred responsibility for watching over Belcher to another state, even though his crimes were against the people of the state of Maryland.
The Belcher sentencing contrasts sharply with another sex crime case wherein the victims were society's most vulnerable, namely children. Mark Allen Heil, 42, of the Bel Air area, was sentenced June 30 to serve more than 13 years in a federal prison after pleading guilty in federal court in
Delaware to attempted enticement of a child and possession of child pornography.
Heil, like Belcher, was in a position of presumed trust, having had a longtime affiliation with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Harford County, most recently as the children's organization's technical director. The prosecuting attorney, Edward McAndrew of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Delaware, noted Heil had accompanied the club on trips to other states and added, "He really had prolonged and substantial access to children."
Heil was fired from the club in 2006 after his now ex-wife reported to county officials she had found him to be in possession of child pornography.
That incident resulted in no prosecution. It wasn't until 2010 when federal a federal investigator, posing as a father soliciting his 9-year-old son for sex with adult men, that Heil attempted to arrange sex with the child and was arrested in Newark, Del. He had made arrangements to meet with what he thought was the father of the 9-year-old boy. Upon his arrest, police found 9,000 photographs and 100 movies classified as child pornography on a laptop computer in Heil's car.
He even went so far as to use the screen name "predatormike123" for on line discussions with what he presumed to be like-minded deviants.
Given the sordid details of this case, 13 years in a federal prison, where there is no hope of early release on parole seems, reasonable, if not a little light.
Given Belcher's crimes against two children, as opposed to Heil's deviant intent coupled with his creating a market for a substantial amount of child pornography, Belcher seems to have gotten off very easily, essentially with no penalty at all, and don't tell us to be compassionate because of his age. As is appropriate, Heil will serve a substantial jail term, while Belcher, will have suffered only the inconvenience of 75 days in jail awaiting trial before having the opportunity to go back to a place far from where the court proceedings and crimes took place.
In the version of justice allowed in the Belcher case, we're left to do little more than hope any fresh start the molester makes in Montana will not involve fresh contact with children who end up being victims. But that, after all, is Montana's worry, thanks to the preposterous actions of Judge Kahl.