- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2002

FREDERICK, Md. (AP) A child molester's recent murder conviction should help persuade Maryland legislators to tighten laws that allowed his early release from prison, a state lawmaker said yesterday.
Delegate Sue Hecht, Frederick-Washington Democrat, cited Elmer Spencer Jr.'s conviction last week for beating, strangling and sexually assaulting 9-year-old Christopher Ausherman as proof that tougher laws are needed.
"We can't forget that we still have a potential today in Maryland, in Frederick, for this to happen again unless we add some immediate and important protections against sexual predators," Mrs. Hecht said at a news conference outside the boy's old school, South Frederick Elementary.
She was joined by the child's mother, Mary Voit, who did not speak but is expected to testify next week in support of Mrs. Hecht's bills before the House Judiciary Committee.
Mrs. Hecht has sponsored or co-sponsored three bills aimed at keeping sex offenders locked up longer, including sentences of up to life without parole for sexually violent predators. Another Hecht-sponsored measure would require registered sex offenders to undergo psychological evaluation and complete any treatment ordered as a condition of parole.
Another Frederick County legislator, Republican Sen. Timothy Ferguson, has submitted four Senate bills aimed specifically at keeping convicted child molesters behind bars.
Supporters hope Spencer's conviction his fourth for a violent crime and his second for a child sexual assault will spur lawmakers to act. Spencer lured young Ausherman away from home and killed him just five days after he was released from state prison for good behavior after serving about 3 years of a 10-year sentence for assaulting a woman.
Frederick County State's Attorney Scott Rolle, who prosecuted Spencer, said it was unfortunate that it took the boy's death to focus attention on sex-offender laws. If Mrs. Hecht's bills are passed, "then perhaps a child's life might be saved," Mr. Rolle said.
A state sex offender task force that met last summer and fall recommended tougher sentences as well as psychological evaluations for those convicted of such crimes.
The state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services is creating a sex-offender transition unit at the Patuxent Institution in Jessup aimed at training sex offenders to control their impulses before they are released.
Dr. Fred Berlin, a Johns Hopkins University psychiatrist, said tougher sentences are only part of the solution.
"If there are people who are too much of a danger, society has a right to protect itself, but the real question is how we can be both safe and just," Dr. Berlin said.


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