- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 9, 2007

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Senate President Mike Miller are pushing for a special session of the General Assembly next month to deal with the state budget deficit. To be sure, the state’s Democratic leadership would make some small spending reductions and reconsider allowing slot machines at Maryland race tracks, but they also want to hit taxpayers with sales- and gas-tax increases. But if a special session were to occur, it would be unconscionable if the legislature failed to take action on urgent public-safety issues — particularly the loopholes that remain in state law that put violent sexual predators out on the street.

The case of Richard Lewis Marks, a career criminal with a three-decade-long history of molesting young boys, is quite illustrative. Fortunately, he was arrested last week in Baltimore County. But his case is the most recent to perfectly capture how Maryland law remains rigged in favor of freedom for violent, dangerous sexual predators.

Marks was charged with an attempted sex offense after he was found this week hiding in a 9-year-old boy’s bedroom in a home near Dundalk in Baltimore County. Beginning in the mid-1970s, Marks was arrested repeatedly for burglaries that involved sexual offenses against juvenile male victims. Marks would loiter around children’s homes for weeks, then break into those homes. Once inside, he would perform sex acts on the boys. In 1991, he was accused of entering a Dundalk home and awakening a teen-age boy, forcing him to undress and performing a sex act on him. Marks was somehow permitted to only plead guilty to burglary, for which he received a sentence of 25 years without parole. The sex offense charges against him were reportedly dropped. So, despite his “no parole” status, Marks was apparently able to accumulate credits for good behavior in prison, and he was released in May after 16 years behind bars. The Baltimore Sun reported that Marks has been behind bars for more than 32 of the last 33 years for burglary and other offenses. By any measure, Marks is a dangerous child predator who should not have been walking the streets earlier this week when he broke into that Baltimore County home.

The question now is whether Maryland politicians are prepared to do anything to ensure that such offenders are prosecuted to the full breadth and extent of the law and remain in prison where they belong. This is something the General Assembly could fix during a special session.

Mr. Miller and the governor know there is precedence. In June 2006, Gov. Robert Ehrlich saw to it that a special session dealing with electric rates was broadened to include a discussion of “Jessica’s law,” named for Jessica Lunsford, a 9-year-old Florida girl who was kidnapped, raped and murdered by a convicted sex offender. In the end, the governor and his legislative allies reluctantly agreed to a “compromise” with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph Vallario, a bitter opponent of toughened criminal sentences. The deal left many violent offenders eligible for parole. So, during this year’s regular General Assembly session, supporters of Jessica’s Law tried again, and they managed to close some of the loopholes left by Mr. Vallario in 2006. Unfortunately, however, Mr. Vallario succeeded in keeping good-behavior credits in the law for sex offenders. If there is a special session, House Minority Leader Anthony O’Donnell is expected to try to propose a bill taking away those credits for sexual predators. Sen. Nancy Jacobs may do the same in that chamber.

It would be nice if these efforts had the support of Mr. O’Malley, but absent an outcry from Maryland voters, that’s unlikely to happen. In fact, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, as a state delegate and Judiciary Committee member in 2006, worked closely with Mr. Vallario in his efforts to prevent enactment of Jessica’s Law. But toughening laws to protect children and punish sex offenders should be the highest priority of the O’Malley administration and the General Assembly — an even greater priority than enacting slots or raising taxes. Maryland leaders should act on behalf of the state’s children.

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