- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 13, 2001

A Montgomery County, Md., teacher active in church ministry will spend 45 days in jail and undergo a psychiatric evaluation for peering into the window of a student's house his second Peeping Tom offense involving a child.

Before handing down his sentence yesterday, District Judge Cornelius J. Vaughey admonished Joseph Clay Jr., 24, for not admitting he has a problem. The judge told the defendant he has a disease, "something that crept in" that needs to be "cut out."

"It's like having cancer," Judge Vaughey said, insisting it is up to Mr. Clay alone to get help.

The judge turned to the teacher's many supporters who crowded into the Rockville courtroom and told them, "I'm doing this so I can work with him."

Mr. Clay also was put on 18 months' supervised probation and is allowed no contact with minors. If he violates those conditions, he can be jailed 45 more days. The maximum penalty for this charge of trespass-Peeping Tom is 90 days in jail.

Some younger friends cried when a bailiff handcuffed Mr. Clay and led him away. When given the chance to speak on his own behalf, Mr. Clay replied, "I have nothing to say, your honor."

Mr. Clay has never received a complaint at any job, and is an upstanding member of the community who volunteered, umpired a children's league and attended Bible study, his lawyer said.

"He is a gentleman who has suffered… . His life has taken a very negative turn," said defense attorney Joseph Quirk, who produced as evidence several letters praising Mr. Clay's character.

The case frightened and angered parents at Rachel Carson Elementary School in Gaithersburg, where Mr. Clay taught second grade, because he continued teaching for more than a year after the first arrest.

Administrators are reviewing the process that allowed a teacher who pleaded guilty to a Peeping Tom charge to remain on the job. Police attributed the mistake to a lack of communication within the school system.

Meanwhile, Mr. Clay remains on paid leave, further enraging parents. Superintendent Jerry Weast is recommending the school board fire the popular teacher, according to yesterday's testimony.

Court documents state that police charged Mr. Clay with misdemeanor trespass-Peeping Tom after two men spotted the teacher looking into the window of a 12-year-old Damascus girl on Dec. 15. The two men knew the homeowner and helped him find the perpetrator.

Mr. Clay denied the charge, insisting he was trying to find someone who threw something at his car. He knew the girl from umpiring in her softball league. Judge Vaughey found the teacher guilty Jan. 29.

Last February, Mr. Clay received probation before judgment after pleading guilty to peering into a boy's home in Clarksburg in July 1999. Mr. Clay had worked as a substitute at the boy's school, Rocky Hill Middle School.

The Damascus parents in the most recent case told the judge yesterday how their children have been left terrified.

"My question is why, out of all the houses in Damascus," the 12-year-old girl said in testimony read by her mother. The girl is still afraid to go into the basement alone and told her parents she is the target of stares at school.

"I have done nothing wrong," she said in the testimony.

Another daughter, a 6-year-old, is still sleeping in her parents' room.

The mother called for better laws to protect families like her's, and told the judge that "just because there is no bloodshed" does not mean there is no pain.

"How would you feel if this had happened to you," she said to the teachers' 30 or so supporters in the courtroom.

Assistant State's Attorney Alex Foster said he was disappointed Mr. Clay did not get a psychiatric evaluation, as he had recommended during earlier discussions about the case.

The prosecutor put an expert in treating sexual offenders on the stand to testify that Peeping Toms often lead normal lives by day. Supporters who back offenders in denial are only preventing treatment, said the expert, Ronald Weiner.

Mr. Quirk said Mr. Weiner did not examine Mr. Clay and does not know what is going on in his mind.

Judge Vaughey recounted for the defendant the story of a Peeping Tom who was decorated as a Navy SEAL. He too, was protected by family and friends, but did get help.

"He was a sick man," the judge said. "Everyone knew it; everyone denied it because he was a hero."

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