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Evidence in rape case destroyed

August 05, 1998|By MARLO BARNHART

Evidence in a rape case was mistakenly destroyed by the Hagerstown Police Department, forcing prosecutors earlier this week to settle for guilty pleas to lesser offenses.

Herbert B. Althoff II, 22, of 17938 Broadfording Road, pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges of fourth-degree sex offense and second-degree assault in Washington County Circuit Court.

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Althoff initially had been charged with second-degree rape of a teenage girl he met at a carnival last summer.

Washington County Circuit Judge John H. McDowell sentenced Althoff to eight years in prison for the assault and one year to be served concurrently for the sex offense.

McDowell suspended all eight years and ordered Althoff placed on probation. He was ordered to go through alcohol screening and treatment, have no contact with the victim and use no drugs or alcohol.

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Althoff also will have to register as a sex offender, McDowell said.

The victim's uncle spoke angrily at the trial, saying Althoff was getting off too easily because he was sentenced to probation and got no jail time.

"She has panic attacks, is afraid to be alone and will be in therapy for a long time," the uncle said of the victim. "I'm not happy with how this is going."

A conviction on a charge of second-degree rape carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.

The judge apologized to the victim and her uncle for how the case was handled.

"This was a compromise so the state will have some control over this person," McDowell said.

Had the state not had enough evidence to gain a conviction, the defendant would have gone free.

Washington County Assistant State's Attorney Susan Lochbaum said she was preparing to try the case when she went to police headquarters to review the physical evidence exhibits.

"I was told by the lab that all the evidence had been destroyed," Lochbaum said.

Contacted after the hearing, Hagerstown City Police Capt. Robert Hart said he had been unaware of the incident.

"I checked and found out that a patrol officer thought the detectives were finished with the case and signed the OK to destroy the evidence," Hart said. "It was an administrative error."

Hart said he couldn't remember such a thing happening before in his 34 years with the police department.

"We have now installed a double-check system because of this error," Hart said.

According to court records, the victim, now 16, told police she had been at the Longmeadow Fire Co. carnival on June 15, 1997, when she got a ride home with a friend.

When she got into the friend's car, two men also were in the car and all of them drove to the victim's home where they talked and drank beer, court records said.

The victim told police she walked into an alley and encountered Althoff who asked her repeatedly to have sex with him, court records said. She said she told him no repeatedly, according to court records.

The victim said she was forced to engage in sexual intercourse, court records said.

Defense attorney Mary Riley had a different story about the incident and how her client would have gone to trial had the state not offered the lesser pleas.

"We have witnesses that would have said she was smoking marijuana and drinking and went with him willingly that night," Riley said.

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