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Hecht renews push for tougher sex offender laws

November 28, 2000

Hecht renews push for tougher sex offender laws



By LAURA ERNDE / Staff Writer


FREDERICK, Md. - A local lawmaker has vowed to renew her push for tougher sex offender laws following the sexual assault and murder of a 9-year-old Frederick boy.

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"We will call this Christopher's Law," said Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington, holding back tears during a press conference Tuesday at her office in Frederick.

On Nov. 21, a mentally retarded man with a history of sex offenses was charged in the death of Christopher Ausherman, whose naked body was found in a dugout at a baseball field.

The killing occurred less than one week after the accused, Elmer Spencer Jr., 44, was released from the Maryland Correctional Training Center south of Hagerstown. Spencer was released early because of good-time credits accrued during the more than 13 years he served on a previous 22-year sentence for sexually assaulting a child, prison officials have said.

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Since 1998, Hecht has introduced four bills in the Maryland General Assembly dealing with child abuse and sexual offenses. All four failed in the House Judiciary Committee.

She said she can't say for sure whether her proposed legislation, had it been enacted, would have prevented Christopher's death.

But she said she believes her bills, along with a task force to review Maryland's current sexual offender laws and procedures, will go a long way toward preventing future tragedies.

"It didn't have to happen," she said. "We can't let this happen again in Frederick or any other part of the state.

"We can't put a protective bubble around every one of our children to protect them from sexual predators. Maybe if we put a face on it we can get legislators to recognize that this can happen," she said.

Hecht began her press conference by expressing her condolences to Christopher's family and friends. She said she hadn't discussed the legislation with them, but she wrote them a letter outlining what she plans to do.

Hecht said she did not want to blame any one person in the system, a complex network of people involved in public safety, the courts, the legislature, parole and probation and mental health.

"I'm not damning any part of our system. All of us need to share some blame here. We have got to protect our children and our society," she said.

Hecht is proposing that:

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Convicted sexual offenders who are likely to repeat their offenses be placed in the custody of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene until they are no longer a risk to society. First introduced as the Sexually Violent Predator Act of 1998, the bill is most aptly called "Christopher's Law," Hecht said.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> The crime of child abuse be added to the list of violent crimes. Additional penalties would be applied to repeat offenders. The bill was introduced in 1998.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Inmates convicted of child abuse be ineligible to receive good-time credits.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> It would be a crime to travel or conspire to travel for the purpose of engaging in prohibited sexual activities with someone under 18.

Hecht also wants the Maryland General Assembly to create a task force to recommend changes in sentencing, treatment, release and oversight of sexual offenders.

Hecht said the task force has the blessing of several key people, including House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, Chief Judge Robert M. Bell and Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Stuart O. Simms.

Hecht said she feels so strongly about the issue because as director of the Heartly House in Frederick she has seen many sexual assault victims.

The nonprofit agency offers treatment programs to victims and their families, she said.

Hecht has gotten ideas for legislation from her experience at Heartly House and from hearing from correctional officers at the prisons south of Hagerstown.

Prison guards have told her they worry about the release of sex offenders who don't have any support from their families or the state.

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