- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 13, 2002

FREDERICK, Md. (AP) The shocking murder of a 9-year-old boy gave the 2002 General Assembly an undeniable reason to toughen sentencing of repeat sex offenders, backers of the legislation say.

"They could not say to themselves, 'This can only happen somewhere else.' It happened here, and everyone saw that we needed to do something to make sure it doesn't happen again," said Delegate Sue Hecht, Frederick County Democrat.

She and Sen. Timothy R. Ferguson, Carroll County Republican, were elated that the legislature, in its second session since Christopher Ausherman's death, passed two bills dubbed Christopher's Law, requiring penalties of as much as life without parole for certain repeat sex offenders.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, has said he sees no "red flags" that would keep him from signing either bill.

Mr. Ferguson's bill would allow judges to impose life sentences without parole for those convicted more than once of a first-degree rape or a first-degree sex offense. Current law permits life sentences only with a possibility of parole.

Miss Hecht's bill would give judges the option of sentencing some repeat second- and third-degree sex offenders to life in prison.

The bills reflect substantial cooperation between Miss Hecht and Mr. Ferguson, a conservative Republican whose views often clash with those of his more liberal Democratic colleague.

These bills "don't conflict; in fact, they dovetail," Mr. Ferguson said. "They complement one another, which is why the governor is probably going to sign both of them."

Another Hecht bill would keep some criminals behind bars longer by barring certain good-behavior credits for inmates who committed certain crimes after being freed from their previous sentences early for good behavior.

Elmer Spencer Jr., the man convicted in February of beating, strangling and sexually assaulting Christopher Ausherman, had been freed from prison under mandatory early release rules five days before the boy was killed. He had served about 3½ years of a 10-year sentence for assaulting a woman and has a long record of violent and sexual offenses.

Spencer's sentencing is set for Tuesday.

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