A lawyer for John Merzbacher, the former Baltimore Catholic school teacher serving four life terms for child rape and sexual abuse, argued in a federal appeals court filing Thursday that his imprisoned client must be offered a plea deal, despite his convictions, or be released immediately.
The claims refer to a U.S. District Court opinion handed down in 2010, saying that Merzbacher’s constitutional rights were violated when his defense attorneys neglected to tell him about a 10-year plea offer before his 1995 trial on charges he attacked a Catholic Community middle school girl nearly two decades earlier. Merzbacher was convicted of six counts at trial and sentenced to years in prison.
The district court judge ruled that Merzbacher must now be offered the deal if a city circuit court judge is willing to enforce it. But in a 44-page brief H. Mark Stichel, Merzbacher’s attorney, contends that the ruling did not go far enough.
“The District Court either should have directly ordered that Mr. Merzbacher be released from prison for time served… or remanded [his case] with instructions that the Circuit Court should impose the agreed upon sentence of ten years,” Stichel wrote, noting that “there is a very real likelihood” that “no judge of that court will accept the plea deal” if given the opportunity to refuse it.
The argument was made to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is reviewing the district court judge’s ruling. The Maryland Attorney General’s office is fighting Merzbacher’s release. A spokesman declined to comment Thursday, because the office was in the process of reviewing Stichel’s brief.
He has been imprisoned since 1995, serving “seven more years in prison that he would have” had he been offered the deal, Stichel said. His court filing called Merzbacher’s criminal prosecution, which originally involved at least 14 victims, “the most notorious case of alleged sexual abuse of children in the history of the state of Maryland.”
Many of his former students have banded together to lobby for his continued incarceration.