- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 5, 2002

Jury selection begins today in the murder trial of a mentally retarded man charged with killing and sexually assaulting a 9-year-old boy, a death that sparked debate about Maryland's sex-offender and early-release laws.
Elmer Spencer Jr., 46, is accused of strangling and sexually assaulting Christopher Ausherman, whose battered body was found in a Little League baseball field dugout near his Frederick home on Nov. 20, 2000.
Spencer had been freed from prison six days earlier under a mandatory early-release program after serving about 31/2 years of a 10-year sentence for assaulting a woman.
Spencer's record includes five other arrests dating to 1974, including four for assaulting children, twice sexually. He has three previous convictions two for assault and one for raping an 11-year-old Carroll County boy and has spent about 20 years behind bars.
Prosecutors plan to call 30 witnesses and present DNA evidence as well as a videotape showing a man resembling Spencer buying Pokemon cards for the boy at a convenience store the evening of Nov. 19.
Spencer's public defenders, meanwhile, are expected to challenge the DNA evidence during the trial in Frederick County Circuit Court that is expected to last three weeks.
Attorneys for both sides declined to comment on the case yesterday.
The victim's grandmother, Birdie Lookingbill, said she hopes Spencer is convicted and sentenced to life without parole.
"What he did, I think it's unjustful," she said.
State's Attorney Scott Rolle has said he will seek life without parole if Spencer is found guilty of first-degree murder, first-degree sexual offense and child abduction.
Spencer is not eligible for the death penalty because of his mental retardation. His IQ has consistently been measured at less than 70 and his ability to survive alone is impaired, according to experts who have examined him.
The case has prompted demands in the General Assembly for reform of Maryland's sex-offense and early-release laws. In addition, a state task force has recommended that courts be allowed to impose sentences of up to life imprisonment on sexually violent predators defined as having at least two convictions for sexually violent offenses.
The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services plans to submit a bill to that effect this session, according to task force leader Richard B. Rosenblatt, the agency's mental health director.
He said the agency also is creating a sex-offender transition unit at the Patuxent Institution in Jessup, Md. It will feature three, eight-week courses aimed at training sex offenders to manage their problem before they are released.
Patricia K. Cushwa, chairman of the Maryland Parole Commission, supports another task force recommendation, to rescind good-behavior credits for those who violate terms of their early release from prison. Currently, those credits can be used repeatedly.

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