- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 5, 2003

The case of Michael Wayne Sears, who murdered his wife in 1992 and is charged with murdering his girlfriend last month, highlights the crying need to rein in Maryland judges, who have virtually unlimited power to reconsider criminal sentences at any time at the request of the defense. Eleven years ago, Sears went into the bedroom of the Clinton home he shared with his wife, Debra, and shot her to death as the couple’s three children sat outdoors. He now is awaiting trial on charges of killing his girlfriend in Greenbelt last month.

In 1994, Sears was convicted of second-degree murder in the Debra Sears case and sentenced to 30 years in prison by Prince George’s County Circuit Court Judge Joseph Casula. Sears served time at the Patuxent Institution in Jessup — which treats the state’s violent inmates thought to be the best candidates for rehabilitation. In filing for a reduced sentence in 1999, Sears’ defense attorney submitted a letter to the court from a psychiatrist who concluded that Sears was “a very low risk to engage in future violent behavior if he were released from incarceration.” Judge Casula, apparently moved to hear the good news about Sears, reduced his sentence to 20 years, making him eligible for parole at an earlier date. In 2001, Sears was freed — after serving just nine years for murder.

Over the next 20 months, Sears got himself a condominium, a new car and a girlfriend: Darlene Williamson, a mother of four. Late last month, relatives found Miss Williamson, who had been beaten and stabbed to death, in the bedroom of Sears’ condominium. Judge Casula termed the news of Sears’s arrest “a judge’s worst nightmare,” but attempted to foist the blame for his early release on the folks at the Patuxent Institution.

The judge’s alibi certainly won’t help the young Williamson children, who will never see their mother again. And it certainly isn’t the first time that Judge Casula’s misdirected compassion toward violent felons has resulted in tragedy. Just ask the family of Peyton Tuthill, a 24-year-old Colorado woman who was raped and murdered by Donta Paige, an armed robber who had served just two years of his 10-year sentence when Judge Casula ordered him released from prison and sent to a drug-treatment center in Denver. After four months of failed treatment, Paige was expelled from the program in February 1999. The following day, he raped and murdered Miss Tuthill during a burglary of her home. The state of Maryland paid $700,000 to the Tuthill family, and Gov. Parris Glendening apologized to Colorado Gov. Bill Owens.

Fortunately, Judge Casula has retired from the bench. But Maryland retains the perverse system (apparently the only one of its kind in the country) which invests like-minded judges still on the bench with nearly unlimited power to reduce the sentences of violent felons. Two things must be done to change this. First, the state Court of Special Appeals oversees something called the Standing Committee on Rules, which has the power to enact changes. And, most importantly of all, the governor and the General Assembly need to take action. The blunt reality is that the situation won’t be reformed unless Gov. Robert Ehrlich embraces change and puts it at the top of his legislative agenda.

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