- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 10, 2002

STEVENSVILLE, Md. Parents in this community rallied yesterday for changes in Maryland laws that they said protected sex offenders from being identified for crimes they committed as juveniles, but left children vulnerable.

They were alarmed by the case of William E. Adams a 21-year-old karate instructor from Centreville arrested last month and charged with abusing four girls ages 6 to 8 while they were in his care at Martial Arts America or in their homes where he baby-sat.

An attorney for the parents of two victims said Mr. Adams was arrested for sex offenses when he was "14 or 15," but Maryland law prevented any information about these incidents from being reported on background checks.

"I have confirmed [this] through several law enforcement sources," said David W. Fischer, a Glen Burnie lawyer who represents the victims. "Child sex offenders, unfortunately, never stop."

According to state police charging documents, Mr. Adams fondled the girls manually and with a vibrator when they accompanied him to his truck to get compact discs for class. He also performed oral sex on some of them.

An outraged group of residents including some of the more than 40 parents and grandparents who gathered at the Kent Island Firehouse yesterday to show their support are gathering signatures to persuade legislators to change the law when they return to Annapolis in January.

"It was scary happening in our own back yard," said Elaine Harrison, balancing a toddler on her hip before the meeting at the firehouse. "What was scariest was that the guy had gone through several criminal background checks."

Lawmakers certainly will be paying attention to voters like Mrs. Harrison because all state offices are on the November ballot.

Maryland, like most states, seals juvenile records so that offenses committed during youth do not follow a person as an adult. Supporters of the policy generally argue that young people should have a chance to learn from their mistakes and not be held accountable for mistakes made before they have the full social and ethical development expected of an adult.

"A 17-year-old can commit one of the most heinous sex offenses, and under Maryland law a day care center can hire him," Mr. Fischer said.

Mr. Fischer said the seriousness of sex offenses and sex offenders' strong tendencies to repeat those crimes are arguments against hiding those crimes even if the offender was a teenager when caught.

Queen Anne's County Sheriff Charles Crossley said he believes prohibitions on reporting sex offenses committed as a juvenile are a hindrance to law enforcement and to social workers.

Advocates said they would support legislation that would issue a confidential warning to anyone conducting a background check on employees or volunteers, directing them not to hire or sign on a person who had a juvenile sex offense on his or her record.

They said they are not seeking authority to post names and addresses of persons who committed offenses as teenagers on the public sex-offender list with adult offenders.

That list is available on the Internet and from local police.

Parents and police said Mr. Adams also taught character education at an elementary school adjacent to the firehouse.

"I don't find the school to be the problem, I don't find the business to be the problem," said the father of two of the girls who said they were victims. "They did a background check. The law is the problem."

According to charging documents, that father had given Mr. Adams great access to his children, even letting him stay overnight regularly.

Mr. Adams' attorney Thomas G. Ross declined to comment.

Advocates have a sympathetic ear in their local senator, Walter M. Baker, upper Shore Democrat, who is chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee that oversees such laws.

Mr. Baker said the proponents can count on his support for finding a "reasonable" way to flag persons who committed sex offenses as juveniles.

Mr. Baker said he believes sex offenders can't be cured, that treatment is not successful and that the juvenile-justice system often is ineffective.

"I'm beginning to wonder about juvenile law and whether it's successful at all," Mr. Baker said. "When they get into hard crimes, they should be treated as adults."

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