Bill targets sexual predators

January 20, 1998

Bill targets sexual predators


Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS - Rapists, stalkers and other sexual predators could be committed to a psychiatric hospital after they are released from prison, under legislation filed in the Maryland House of Delegates.

"We are trying to save our citizens from further victimization," said Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington, co-sponsor of the Sexually Violent Predator Act.

For Hecht, the legislation has personal meaning. For the 10 years she was director of the Heartly House shelter for the abused in Frederick, Md., she often dealt with the victims of such crimes.


In one particularly chilling case, a Frederick resident named Roger Zook molested at least 120 boys before being sentenced to 120 years in prison in 1988. Zook previously had been convicted of molestation in 1968 and 1973 in Prince George's County.

"What we are trying to do is protect the community from further violence from known, violent predators," Hecht told the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday.

Her bill mirrors a Kansas law that was enacted in the wake of the Stephanie Schmidt case. Schmidt was a 19-year-old woman who was raped and killed after she accepted a ride home from a co-worker who had been convicted of rape.

"Stephanie did nothing wrong. She made no error in judgment. She only accepted a ride from a friend and co-worker," her mother, Peggy Schmidt, told the committee.

What Stephanie Schmidt didn't know was that the friend and co-worker had a criminal background.

"No one knew he had a been in prison for 10 years for the rape of a college co-ed in the same area," Peggy Schmidt said.

Hecht's bill would allow state officials to go to civil court to determine if people convicted of sex crimes and about to be released from prison are prepared to rejoin society. If not, such offenders would be sent to psychiatric hospitals, where their conditions would be assessed annually.

"They should be retained until they can be treated," said state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., a supporter of the legislation.

Not everyone is in favor of the legislation. The bill has been criticized by civil libertarians and others who see it as too harsh a penalty for a person who has already paid his debt to society.

George M. Lipman, chief attorney for the state Office of the Public Defender's mental health division, expressed concern that the law would blur the lines between criminal and civil penalties.

"Keep what is criminal criminal. Keep what is civil civil," Lipman told the committee.

But Stephanie Schmidt's father said a strong message must be sent.

"We have a criminal cancer is our society and we must remove it swiftly, boldly," Gene Schmidt said.

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